Friday, October 14, 2005

Jumping Frenchman Disease

Well I thought I'd heard everything, until I read an interview with Nancy Butcher, author of The Strange Case of the Walking Corpse, and discovered this lively disorder. To wit:

"Being extremely startled by an unexpected noise or sight is the main characteristic of the disorder with the peculiar name of Jumping Frenchmen of Maine.

It's not just bolting when someone sneaks up behind you, explains Butcher. Patients with the disorder flail their arms, cry out and repeat words. First identified in some of Maine's lumberjacks of French-Canadian origin, the odd reflex has been identified in other parts of the world, too."


Hmm... I wonder what scared them so much, hmm??? I bet there are some interesting stories from the dark of the Maine woods, which were echoing for the first time with men's axes and saws, plundered and enraged out of their aeons-long solitude.

For more information, see this National Institute of Health site:

Of note is this interesting phenomenon: "In response to sudden sensory input, abnormal reaction occurred. For example, if one of them was abruptly asked to strike another, he would do so without hesitation, even if it was his mother and he had an ax in his hand." Affected persons were known commonly as "jumpers."

It was Beard's studies (mentioned above, circa 1880) that encouraged Gilles de la Tourette to study similar behavior that led to his discovery of what is now known as Tourette's Syndrome.

Of recent note is a short fictional piece by Eric Norton, inspired by Lovecraft, about an excursion gone terribly wrong -- an excursion to study this same disorder!

I can see I am not the only one with delicious dreams of writing short fiction about this intriguing weirdness. Drat!


Anonymous said...

Jumping Frenchmen of Maine Disease has been explained as operant conditioning.

A new site, psychology project, has identified the source of stimulus to cause operant conditioning.

The phenomenon to cause exposure to Subliminal Distraction was discovered in the 1960's when office workers using newly designed close-spaced workstations began having mental breaks. The Cubicle solved that problem.

Those designers and psychologists made a mistake. They thought they had created the problem for the first time and that it could only happen in a business office.

JFMD is proof that this is not true. There have been several incidents like JFMD that show the phenomenon can produce several psychiatric outcomes, depression, fear, paranoia, as well as somatic complaints. (Belgian Polar Expedition of 1989, and mental breaks on Russian space missions, Soyuz 21.

Culture Bound Syndromes and Astronauts & Insanity, at

Anonymous said...

Startle matching behaviors, the jumping diseases, Jumping Frenchmen of Maine and Latah happen where many people live and work in too-small single room arrangements.

When one person begins work requiring full mental investment and concentration to perform that person stands in place of the 1960's knowledge worker sitting at an unprotected desk.

Villagers and family members walking around close beside the concentrating tribal member substitute for office staff walking in an aisle beside an unprotected desk.

Exposure to Subliminal Distraction is the same in both cases but the length of time to be exposed is not.


Perform the psychology demonstration to understand the subliminal stimulus.