Graveyard Shift

15 Bizarre Psychological Cases From History That Left Scientists Speechless  

Lea Rose Emery
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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. 

Kim Noble Displayed Over 20 Different Personalities
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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
The Man Who Mistook His Wife F... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 15 Bizarre Psychological Cases From History That Left Scientists Speechless
Photo:  The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985)/Duckworth Publishers/Fair Use

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.

George III of the United Kingd... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 15 Bizarre Psychological Cases From History That Left Scientists Speechless
Photo: Matt From London/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

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. 

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Phineas Gage Survived A Tamping Iron That Speared His Skull
Phineas Gage is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 15 Bizarre Psychological Cases From History That Left Scientists Speechless
Photo:  Jack and Beverly Wilgus/via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

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 should be mystery 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.