Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Man Who Mistook His Cat for a Spy

By Tim Hannan

A new report describes a variant of Capgras syndrome in which a patient believed that his cat had been stolen by the FBI and replaced by an imposter that was spying on him.

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Capgras syndrome is an uncommon but distressing condition in which the sufferer expresses the bizarre belief that a person known to them has been replaced by a near-perfect duplicate. Named after the French psychiatrist who provided the first description in 1923, Capgras is one of a range of delusional syndromes in which a person believes that a person, place or object has disappeared and been replaced by a duplicate, such as an alien, robot or meticulously constructed building.

Capgras sufferers declare that, while the person standing before them may seem identical in appearance and behaviour to their relative or friend, he or she is nevertheless an imposter. Most cases of Capgras occur following a brain injury or neurological illness, such as a traumatic brain injury, stroke, or the onset of dementia, and usually resolve when treated with medication.

A recent report in the journal Neurocase has documented a case in which a patient believes that his cat has been stolen by the FBI and replaced by an imposter. The 73-year-old man presented with a 6-year history of paranoid delusions, including the belief that he was being observed by government agents. He then advised his wife that his cat had been stolen and replaced by a near-perfect replica: while he agreed that the “new” cat appeared physically identical to his former pet, it did not feel like his cat,...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.