The Shaking Woman: A History of Hysteria
In 1895 Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer published "Studies on Hysteria," a series of case studies of female patients with bizarre symptoms that had no obvious biological cause. Some patients complained of convulsive seizures and others of temporary blindness. Anna O, the most famous of the cases, experienced hallucinations and localized limb paralysis and also became catatonic for several months after the death of her father.
Despite its modest title, "Studies on Hysteria" revolutionized the way we understand the body/mind connection. Historically, these symptoms, exclusively thought to occur in women, were linked to the female sex organs—the ancient Egyptians believed them to be caused by undersexed uteri that began to "wander" throughout the body. But Freud hypothesized that these physical symptoms were not caused by anything biological but rather by extreme psychological stress that manifested itself in the body as illness. Uncovering the root psychological trauma, he believed, might cure the illness—a theory that became the basis for his practice of psychoanalysis. As in the case of Phineas Gage, another case of abnormal psychology had given researchers a better understanding of how the healthy brain might function.
Today hysteria—renamed "conversion disorder" in 1980—is viewed with some skepticism. Freud has long since fallen out of favor within the psychiatric community, which prefers a more scientific approach than the hyper-subjectivity of psychoanalysis. Yet researchers are at a loss to find any biological basis for the symptoms of conversion disorder. Also, for much of the late 20th century, hysteria was thought to have disappeared from the West either because it was never a valid disorder in the first place or because it has grown more rare as social mores and understanding about psychology have changed. But a 2002 study suggests that conversion disorder is just as prevalent as ever, with incidence rates on par with those of schizophrenia.
In a recent memoir "The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves," novelist and amateur psychologist Siri Hustvedt attests that the mind is capable of creating powerful symptoms in the body. During a speech she gave at her late father's memorial, Hustvedt's body began to convulse violently, as she describes in her Big Think interview below.
Was Hustvedt's shaking fit a conversion disorder triggered by grief? Was it a form of epilepsy? Or perhaps some fear provoked by a long-buried implicit
memory? Hustvedt doesn't reach a conclusion despite many visits with psychiatrists, but the experience is evidence that neurobiology alone cannot account for all mental illnesses. In fact, Hustvedt argues that we need to resuscitate Freud's work and integrate it with our modern understanding of the brain. She is a proponent of neuropsychoanalysis, which seeks to join the language of neurobiology and that of Freudian psychoanalysis. Without the language of Freud, neurobiology fails to properly account for subjective experience, she says.
Conversion disorder, so-named because anxiety is "converted" into physical symptoms, is classified in the DSM-IV as a somatoform disorder. Other somatoform disorders include body dysmorphic disorder (obsession with a perceived defect in one's appearance), hypohondriasis, and pain disorder (chronic pain due to psychological factors)—all disorders with physical symptoms but with no detectable medical conditions. Though psychoanalytic theory believes unconscious conflict gives rise to this disorder, another school of thought believes that it originates in a disturbance in the central nervous system. There is not strong incontestable evidence for either theory.
— "The Clinical Epidemiology of Hysteria: Vanishingly Rare, or Just Vanishing?" (2002) by Hiroko Akagi and Allan House [PDF]
— An article written by neuropsychoanalysis proponent Mark Solms for Scientific American, plus a rejoinder by anti-Freudian J. Allan Hobson [PDF]
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Beyond Beef sizzles and marbleizes just like real beef, Beyond Meat says.
- Shares of Beyond Meat opened at around $200 on Tuesday morning, falling to nearly $170 by the afternoon.
- Wall Street analysts remain wary of the stock, which has been on a massive hot streak since its IPO in May.
- Beyond Meat faces competition from Impossible Foods and, as of this week, Tyson.
Average waiting time for hitchhikers in Ireland: Less than 30 minutes. In southern Spain: More than 90 minutes.
- A popular means of transportation from the 1920s to the 1980s, hitchhiking has since fallen in disrepute.
- However, as this map shows, thumbing a ride still occupies a thriving niche – if at great geographic variance.
- In some countries and areas, you'll be off the street in no time. In other places, it's much harder to thumb your way from A to B.
A recent study used data from the Big Five personality to estimate psychopathy prevalence in the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C.
- The study estimated psychopathy prevalence by looking at the prevalence of certain traits in the Big Five model of personality.
- The District of Columbia had the highest prevalence of psychopathy, compared to other areas.
- The authors cautioned that their measurements were indirect, and that psychopathy in general is difficult to define precisely.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.