Alien hand syndrome masturbation

I need to keep up with my Mind Hacks posts! A few days ago, Vaughan stumbled upon a case study in a medical journal describing a stroke patient who lost control of his hand. He ended up with "alien hand syndrome" in which his hand apparently engaged in public masturbation outside of his control. From Mind Hacks:
We tend to think of the cognitive impairments after brain injury as the most disabling - things like loss of memory or speech or language impairment, but we often neglect what we might call social impairments.

Especially when the effect is embarrassing, these can have just as strong an impact because many people massively restrict their lives to prevent causing social discomfort to themselves or others.
Involuntary masturbation in alien hand syndrome


  1. Yeah… YEAH… Dat`s da ticket!!! I`ll claim Alien Hand Syndrome made me do it!

    I’m so ashamed.

  2. It’s a pity the links only lead to an abstract regarding the larger study. I’d like more details.

    That said, lacking those details I dunno what to think about this. It sounds like he has no conscious control of his limb. So, then, when he started having involuntary movement of the arm, did he attempt to constrain it?

    Also, is it fully involuntary if the limb can perform complex series of movements compared to spasms? Was this studied by the doctors directly, or was this anecdotal retelling from the man? It seems unlikely that the gentleman in question would be very willing to allow research to be done on him while he was involuntarily masturbating. Is it possible that there’s more psychological consideration to the act than is implied, especially considering this is a stroke victim?

    Details! I need details! Anyone know where to find a full copy of the article?

    -D. Walker

  3. I have a similar problem with my right hand. It demands to be held up over my head with all but the center finger tightly grasping my palm.

  4. Great, now there’s going to be a rash of guys wearing “I can’t help it! I’ve got Alien Hand Syndrome, you see.” t-shirts walking around groping themseves, groping others, shoplifting (“How did that get there?! Damn you, evil hand!”), etc.

  5. Gilbert Anonymous here:
    It could be worse. What if after a sex change operation you had a sexual encounter (lesbian or hetero) and in the middle of it the “phantom limb” made its –er–appearance?

  6. Suggested work-around:

    Build fake arm and hand, which innocuously holds a parcel to wearer’s chest.

    Dress uncontrolled arm in green rubber tentacle which appears to emerge from wearer’s back.

    If hand grabs crotch, passers-by will assume that an actual alien parasite is molesting the hapless wearer. Patient can assure those showing concern that he is due to have the growth removed.

  7. Sooooooo, this is the opposite ailment to the useful invisible ball-scratching hand posted previously? I’ll stick with that one, thanks. Everyone loves the Invisible Hand, amirite?

  8. Okay, I get that his hand was “alien.” But was his penis? Because if I was out in public and I felt someone jerking me off, I’d probably want to figure out wtf was going on. Whether or not he was aware of what his hand was doing, wouldn’t he be a little curious about the freebie?

  9. Let’s not be too quick to discount the theory that it was a real (but invisible) alien messing with the poor guy.

    I think I liked the Predators better when they were hunting mercenaries in the jungles of South America or ritualistically slaughtering aliens under the North Pole. Using your personal invisibility device to play practical jokes on stroke patients is just creepy, frankly.

  10. See for me, that phenomena seems to be triggered by certain sites on the internet.

    I wonder if it’s triggered by certain sights for him.

  11. Mr Voodoo: Maybe he also had Alien Penis Syndrome… It could happen.

    Daemon: You forgot the obligatory link. There. Fixed that for you. ;D

    Anon@7: Stroke victim? I get it.

  12. “many people massively restrict their lives to prevent causing social discomfort to themselves or others”

    No kidding! I know someone with an anxiety disorder centered around social discomfort when eating in front of others. Pretty simple and innocuous, but it’s hard to overstate the impact this has on quality of life. Most social occasions involve food… and thus it is incredibly difficult for this person to form or maintain friendships.

    I imagine the problem in TFA would lead to pretty extreme isolation.

  13. Ong Hai, BG, Odderson, IR: Involuntary Genital Masturbation as a Manisfestation of Stroke-Related Alien Hand Syndrome American Journal of Physical Medicien & Rehabilitation 2000;79:395-398

    There you go.

  14. Mr Voodoo @ #18 nails the point (almost) perfectly — if one’s penis is not also alien, presumably one has some sensations that help one diagnose when this occurs.

    Unlike Mr. Voodoo, I am also alarmed when my penis-based alien-hand-masturbation-detector goes off when I am in private. In public, it *could* be a freebie — in private, it has to be disturbing.

  15. Waiting for the first New York Times article in their Yuppie Parenting Section that goes on about kids with various “phantom limb X” syndromes that makes them do all kinds of disruptive shit. Watch for followup items on suggested diets, blaming various medications, support groups, and special accomodations at public schools.

    FWIW, I believe the parent story is true. OTOH I think that defense attorneys and helicopter parents just got a whole stableful of free ponies and unicorns for Xmas with this case also.

  16. I have a hunch that the part of the brain responsible for alien hand syndrome is similar (or maybe physically close) to the part of the brain that misfires and causes Tourette’s syndrome/OCD related stuff.

    (My twelve year old son has Tourette’s with OCD mixed in and it really does look and sound at times like he is possessed by something that is controlling his body against his will. As I type this now, he’s lying in bed trying to fall asleep and keeps shouting out obscenities.)

  17. In addition to the aforementioned Dr. Strangelove reference, the recent television show ‘Sons of Anarchy’ had an episode with a character with this exact problem.

    It was mainly played for laughs, but they way the various leads (all uber-macho, violent, bikers) reacted to this problem seemed pretty realistic, though.

  18. So was the alien hand syndrome an effect of the stroke, or did he get the a stroke because of “this involuntary masturbatory response”.Lol.

    Anyway, I don’t really find this surprising given documented cases of people cursing involuntarily and losing some sort of control over parts of their bodies after a neurologic trauma or condition. I would think though, that if the patient lets his “alien hand” continue with its unwanted act, that actually constitutes a voluntary thing. Masturbation after all requires not just the hand.

  19. Choice parts of the original paper (Ong Hai and Odderson 2000 Am J Phys Med Rehabil):

    He stated, “my left hand has a mind of his own.” He developed a tonic grasp reflex with inability to release. He also had a tendency to reach and grasp onto objects with the left hand, such as the telephone cord or the remote control for the television, and was unable to release despite verbal commands. He would persistently grab his comb or fix the collar of his shirt. He also demonstrated difficulty performing bimanual activities, such as eating.

    The patient’s wife also expressed deep concern when her husband’s left hand would publicly expose his genitals and begin masturbating. This occurred on many occasions when the patient was conversing with his caregivers and was confirmed by the authors on their daily rounds. The behavior was never seen to occur through the action of the right hand. The patient also denies any history of excessive self-stimulation, sexual dysfunction, or exhibitionism. During his hospital stay, the patient expressed frustration and dismay when he realized that he was masturbating publicly and with his inability to voluntarily release his grasp of objects in the left hand.

    One month after discharge … the patient tended to simultaneously bring both hands to his mouth when eating, one holding a piece of chicken and the other holding the fork. However, the patient had ceased performing involuntary public masturbation activities with the left hand.

    Searching Pubmed for “Alien masturbation” (I never thought I’d do that…) also gives a more recent case involving a French man:

  20. @7 Anon:
    Also, is it fully involuntary if the limb can perform complex series of movements compared to spasms

    In a normal brain, one retains a) control and b) awareness of what your brain and body are up to. In alien hand syndrome (and some kinds of schizophrenia) this isn’t the case.

    A normal person can carry on a conversation with their self in their head. A person with schizophrenia can do the same, but can’t consciously influence what the “other side” of the conversation is saying, nor can they recognize the “other side” as themselves. Alien hand syndrome works in pretty much the same way. The brain is still controlling the limb, but the physical control is cut off from conscious volition. It’s a very weird situation.

  21. I first learned of this very bizarre behavior many years ago and have found it to be somewhat interesting and possibly providing insights into the duality of man. It was first diagnosed in the 1970’s as Alien Arm Syndrome.

    A doctor in the 1950’s was experimenting on cats by severing the corpus callosum, the bundle of nerves that connect the halves of the brain. The only noticeable side effect was loss of depth perception in one of the eyes.

    Theorizing that epilepsy was nothing more than an electrical storm in the brain passing from side to side through the corpus callosum, this doctor decided to sever the C.C. in patients that had severe cases with unmanageable lives.

    Initially the seizures stopped, with no “real” noticeable side effects. In the 1970’s the patients were revisited and a very high percentage had developed “Alien Arm Syndrome.”

    Usually the non-dominant hand had taken on a “life” of its own with seemingly deviant, or evil motivations that were unknown and uncontrollable by the host. A very interesting case study.

  22. Does anyone know anyone that actually HAS this disorder? We are doing a documentary on rare and hard to diagnose syndromes. Please contact me for more information.

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