Alien hand syndrome

According to a 1997 medical journal paper, a 67-year-old man was frequently woken by his own hand, out of his control, grabbing at his collar. He managed to control the problem by wearing an oven mitt. Of course, this is only one of many strange cases of Alien Hand Syndrome aka "Dr. Strangelove syndrome," which we've posted about on BB previously. It's rare, but sometimes seen in individuals who have had their two brain hemispheres separated to alleviate epileptic seizures, or people who have suffered strokes or other brain injuries. MSNBC's The Body Odd surveys a few cases:
  Vine Images Users Nws Julia-Sommerfeld 5372743 "An alien hand is an arm and hand that moves when the person to whom that arm belongs does not intend it to move," says Dr. Ken Heilman, a neurologist at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville, Fla. Heilman goes on to note that there are many neurological conditions that cause an arm to move unintentionally -- like seizures or tremors, and movement disorders such as chorea, dystonia and athetosis. Here's the difference: In each of those cases, if the arm moves, it's pretty much just flailing about purposelessly, "but with an alien hand, the movement appears to be purposeful." Creepy.

Heilman recalls one patient whose hands actually fought over fashion: Her right hand took a pair of red shoes out of the closet. Her left hand -- the "alien" hand -- pulled the red shoes out of her right hand, put them back and picked up a pair of blue shoes. When the right hand went again for the red shoes, the left hand slammed the closet door on the right hand.

A German neurologist and psychiatrist named Kurt Goldstein was the first to report a case of alien hand syndrome in 1908. His patient's left hand seemed to do whatever it pleased, including, at least once, an attempt to throttle its owner.

"When one hand develops a mind of its own"


  1. Imagine being trapped in a body with no control over it except you manage to take possession of one hand…

    I wonder if anyone has given a pen and paper to the hand and tried to communicate with it.

  2. I think this post needs a “All of Me ” reference. Th emovie were steve martin and Lily Tomlin share a body and have to coordinate going to the bathroom and such things

  3. I’ve always found this one of the most frightening disorders in psychology. It really must make us question some of our most basic assumptions of how the brain works. Can the brain hold multiple consciousnesses? And can the “main” consciousness not even be aware of the others?

    Normally, all parts of the brain are communication with each other. This unifies our consciousness. Even parts of our brain that are in conflict — the part that wants to stay healthy and the part that really wants that chocolate cake — all feel like one consciousness. Sometimes, of course, some aspects of our brain take over, and we eat the chocolate cake even when we know we shouldn’t, and then feel guilty afterwards. But it all still feels like one consciousness.

    But if communication linking the parts of the brain gets cut off, then we no longer have a unified whole. Are these really separate entities after all?

    I could see that part of that mind, not having a full consciousness, not having access to some of the “higher” cognitive areas of the brain, maybe not have access to language, but still conscious, struggling, feeling helpless and out of control. Is it any wonder that that part of the mind might want to throttle the body, to end it of its misery?

    What if some connections in your brain are destroyed, and what if it’s you that ends up being the consciousness in the mind disconnected from the rest of the brain, disconnected from half the body, and only able to control a hand or a foot?

  4. My right hand keeps slipping itself down the front of my pants and grabbing my bird.

    And I’ve got no control.. none.

  5. If the part of the brain that is controlling the hand knows nothing about writing, then the pen won’t be used — for writing.

    Everyone has parts of their brains that are doing things that they are not conscious of. Tonnes and Tonnes of things. No-one thinks about how the brain produces the phenomenon known as attention. Why do you see the people passing the basketball and not the guy in the gorilla suit?

    Anyone who has ever used a pendulum to communicate with their ‘subconscious mind’ knows that there is influence constantly by those parts of the brain, and that they’re not always readily apparent to the conscious mind until they’re amplified.

  6. Ah, I thought this is was where you stare at your hand and your fingers look like weird grasping stalks and it’s all fleshy pads and claw-like nails and you’re like “Whoaaaaa.”

  7. Puts me in the mind of the excellent Clive Barker short story “The Body Politic” found in one of the “Books of Blood” collections (possibly #4, released in the US as “The Inhuman Condition”)

  8. I suffer from something similar. A couple times when I’ve been knocked out and more often just when sleeping, I awaken to the feeling of my right hand moving and I see it flapping up and down as if I were waving to someone, but faster than I can wave it when conscious. It only lasts a few seconds, but it is extremely unnerving.

  9. SamSam: considering that multiple personality disorder exists, maybe that’s a good explanation for what’s going on.

    1. Said disorder have been questioned for some time, as documented cases came from sources that was lead there by the therapist.

  10. ecloud: I thought so as well, but I believe SamSam argued for the stronger case, which is multiple consciousnesses cohabiting and operating on the body simultaneously. That’s next level.

  11. I’ve just been reading “My Stroke of Insight” by Dr Jill Taylor. One might predict “alien hand syndrome” to occur mostly in left handedness, which is controlled by the non-verbal right half of the brain.

  12. So I’ve been going bald now for the past year, right at the center front of my hair line.

    A few months ago I woke in my sleep to pain in my left arm/hand. When I went to move it I realized it was tucked between my mattress and box spring. I pulled my hand out and noticed it had something in it. Upon further inspection it was hair, my hair. I lifted up my mattress and found a ball of what I can only assume is my hair.

    So instead of thinking my hand is possessed by a demon, I now know it simply does what it wants to.

  13. I try not to bore people with my dreams but I’ve had a recurring one wherein I’m carrying an exacto knife and have to mentally fight my hand/arm to keep it from attacking me with it.

    Beats the dream I used to have where I float across the ceiling and can’t get down. That one sucked.

  14. There is a rather cute video of a dog defending a bone it has from its own leg, which I always thought was a case of phantom leg syndrome

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