The Curious Case of Jumping Frenchmen of Maine


The human body is an amazing machine. But this incredible machine doesn’t always work at full speed as it should. Problems may be caused by a genetic abnormality, a virus or different bacteria that invades the body, giving birth to various diseases. One of the strangest such illnesses is the Jumping Frenchmen of Maine Syndrome.

This very rare neurological disorder of unknown origin manifests as a sudden exaggerated startle after hearing an unexpected laud noise, word or command. People who suffer from this syndrome can be often seen making sudden movements using their whole body or, especially their hands.

Basically, the body reacts abnormally and suddenly to certain stimulation. Specialists explain that patients tend to listen to any order they receive briefly, by repeating it back, or by imitating constantly other people.

The most common symptoms consist of shouting, jumping, hitting various things or experiencing muscle spasms, although in other situations those people are very sensitive and shy. For example, when these patients are asked in a bossy tone to hit someone, they do it without hesitation. Their reaction would be the same even if they were told to punch their own mothers.

This weird syndrome was first discovered in 1878, at a group of lumberjacks, who lived in the Moosehead Lake area, in Maine. People who knew them described them as exhibited outrageous bursts, chaotic movements of the limbs and uncontrolled tremors, despite the fact that most of the time they were quite shy.

According to the American neurologist George Miller Beard, who discovered and analyzed the disease, this strange malady is genetic, being caused by blockage of an amino acid that calms the central nervous system. Beard published his findings and theories about the Jumping Frenchmen Syndrome in 1880, saying that he also believed the disease was hereditary. His work is considered by History of Medicine professor Howard I. Kushner “the most influential and detailed study” about the syndrome.

Five years later, the illness was included by Georges Gilles de la Tourette in the typology of “convulsive tic illness”, but Beard’s complete study made experts doubt the syndrome was similar to Tourette syndrome.

In fact, nobody knows for sure the main cause that makes a person develop this strange condition. It’s very true that few people have shown interest in observing The Jumping Frenchmen Syndrome. Apart from Beard there were also researchers MH and JM Saint-Hilaire, who studied a group of eight patients. They concluded that the disease was in fact psychological, not neurological.

Further reading:

Jumping Frenchmen of Maine – Wikipedia

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