15 Bizarre Psychological Cases From History That Left Scientists Speechless

There are some cases that doctors just can't get to the bottom of, including strange psychological conditions that have stumped psychiatrists and psychologists for many years. From puzzling mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, to the most bizarre demises, doctors have faced cases so confounding that all they can do is throw their hands up.  

The truth is, much is still unknown about medicine and the human body. There are so many complications when it comes to the brain alone. This list explores the strangest cases that patients have brought to psychiatrists and psychologists. It's not just regular people, either - even celebrities suffer from bipolar disorder and various mental conditions. Read on to discover cases that are serious head-scratchers. 

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  • Kim Noble Displayed Over 20 Different Personalities

    Kim Noble Displayed Over 20 Different Personalities
    Video: YouTube

    Kim Noble may be her given name, but when you speak to her, you're most likely speaking to Patricia, her dominant personality. In this extreme case of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), or split personalities, Noble has been found to have over 20 different personalities, including a boy who only writes in Latin and an anorexic young woman. Though doctors can't understand it, they support Noble having custody of her child, concluding that none of the personalities are a threat.

    While Patricia may be the dominant personality, Noble bounces in between

    Sometimes, I can end up wearing five different outfits in one morning. Normal for me is driving to the shops and returning home with my boot full of groceries I didn't want. It's opening my wardrobe and discovering clothes I hadn't bought, or taking delivery of pizzas I didn't order.

    Noble seems to be coping with it and making some amazing art - 14 of her personalities are artists - but it's more than most people can wrap their minds around.

  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat

    In one of his most famous books, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985), Dr. Oliver Sacks describes the curious case of a man (whom Sacks dubs "Dr. P") with visual agnosia, the eponymous "man" who thought his wife was a head covering. The man could see - he just couldn't make sense of the objects in his visual field. Dr. P's condition left him unable to distinguish between objects and people.

    And Dr. P didn't just think his wife was a hat either. He mistook fire hydrants for children and talked to doorknobs and furniture handles. Sacks likened the man's visual confusion to Mr. Magoo at one moment in his description of the situation.

  • The madness of King George III is well-known. The British King would go through periods of acting completely deranged in which he had to be restrained. He would speak for hours until he foamed at the mouth, with a fascinating and bombastic vocabulary. His doctors were utterly befuddled by his ailment. 

    Interestingly, it was retrospectively diagnosed as a genetic defect called porphyria, but there was no solid evidence of this theory until 2005. Researchers found that there had been a high level of arsenic in King George's blood, which has been connected to setting off porphyria. It's likely that his medications contained arsenic, meaning that the very things that were supposed to be curing him were actually making his condition worse. 

  • Phineas Gage Survived A Tamping Iron That Speared His Skull

    The famous case of Phineas Gage comes from Vermont. In 1848, an early detonation on a railway line projected Gage's tamping iron into his face, through his brain, and right out of the top of his head. The fact that he survived is mysterious enough, but friends and family said his personality changed so completely that it was as though he was an entirely different person.

    What was the cause? Some doctors thought that frontal brain damage led to a personality change, but recent research suggests that his right frontal cortex remained intact. Scientists are still confounded as to what caused Gage's drastic change.

  • The Man Who Got Selective Emotional Detachment From Brain Surgery

    The Man Who Got Selective Emotional Detachment From Brain Surgery
    Photo: Luigi Novi / via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

    Dr. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and prolific author, recorded a number of his strangest and most interesting cases involving inexplicably derived mental conditions. One of these involved a man who - before brain surgery to help with his epilepsy - was a loving husband and father who hated the hospital. After brain surgery, however, he became extremely cold to and removed from his family and began to love his doctors, the hospital, and strangers.

    Although they could never come to a fully satisfying explanation, Sacks and his team described the man's post-surgery emotional behavior as a "selective loss of responsiveness to a categorical group, the patient's family."

  • Stephen, Who Just Wants To Be Eaten

    Stephen, Who Just Wants To Be Eaten
    Photo: Milwaukee Police Department / Fair Use

    Stephen wasn't the first patient to show an interest in cannibalism or vorarephilia - a condition characterized by erotic consumption - but what doctors weren't prepared for was that he desired to be eaten. Stephen wanted to be eaten by "a large, dominant woman."

    The doctors were stumped. They eventually decided that it had something to do with never wanting to be alone.