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What is Capgras Delusion?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Capgras delusion is a psychiatric condition in which the patient believes that someone has been replaced by an identical double. The double usually replaces someone close to the patient, such as a family member or friend. This condition usually occurs in the form of a symptom of a psychiatric or medical problem, such as schizophrenia or brain injury, and it is more common in women than in men.

The name for this condition comes from the French psychiatrist who first documented a case of Capgras delusion in a young woman in the 1920s. Numerous cases have been documented since this period, and there is historical evidence that Capgras delusion was probably present in many ancient societies as well. The myth of the changeling which is common to many cultures is, for example, an illustration of the Capgras delusion in which parents believe that their child has been taken away and replaced with another.

This condition is a form of misidentification, with the patient being unable to identify and recognize a particular person, although everyone else the patient is acquainted with can be clearly identified. Capgras delusion appears to be caused by functional changes in the brain, and it is commonly linked with brain injury, dementia, and diseases which damage the brain as a result. It can also be the result of chemical imbalances in the brain which alter perception, making it harder for patients to identify the people they know.

As with many delusions, treatment for Capgras delusion is challenging. The patient firmly believes that someone he or she knows has been replaced by a double, and any attempts to debunk this will be met with resistance. A therapist or loved one who tries to intervene may inadvertently compound the delusion, as the patient may decide that the people denying the presence of the double are also doubles. Especially in people with a history of mental illness, Capgras delusion can become quite complicated.

Treatment is dependent on establishing a strong therapeutic relationship with the patient in which the therapist neither confirms nor denies the delusion. Over the course of psychotherapy sessions, the patient may be led to slowly understand that he or she is suffering from a delusion. Medications may also be used to manage the patient. In severe cases, however, Capgras delusion may not be treatable, as can be seen in cases of dementia where a patient is experiencing progressive brain damage which eventually leads to more widespread misidentification, such as confusing the identities of family members.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By ShadowGenius — On Feb 18, 2011

@arod2b42

I think that male relationships can also be deep and emotional. Men have a sensitive side that they might not show, and there are deep expectations of people which they foster from a young age. Young boys are particularly prone to this deep sense of trust, and fearing that their father turns out to be someone besides who he thought he was can hurt a boy's upbringing.

By BioNerd — On Feb 15, 2011

@arod2b42

I recently heard of an aged woman who is a friend of the family and has a condition which causes her to periodically believe that her husband is a false double. These instances are accompanied by fear, doubt, and mistrust, leaving the poor husband sad and bothered. The deterioration of the mind is one of the saddest things to witness in a loved one, and it is to be hoped that cures for these illnesses will continue to advance.

By arod2b42 — On Feb 14, 2011

My mother told me that when she was a girl she was suddenly stricken with the fearful belief that there was a person inside and controlling her pet dog. It seems that these sorts of fears are much more common among girls than boys. This may be due to the fact that girls are more prone to form deep emotional connections, and are afraid of having these heart ties broken by a sudden realization that someone is not what they expected. Relational ties in men tend to be comparatively more shallow.

By anon88407 — On Jun 04, 2010

there seems that there is not much information on the capgras syndrome.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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