Philosophy, Psychology and Neuroscience

"He is Not My Father," and "That is Not My Arm" - Making Sense of Delusional Misidentifications

The patient with Capgras’ syndrome claims that people very familiar to him have been replaced by impostors. I argue that this disorder is due to the destruction of a representation that the patient has of the mind of the familiar person. This creates the appearance of a familiar body and face, but without the familiar personality, beliefs, and thoughts. The posterior site of damage in Capgras’ is often reported to be the temporoparietal junction, an area that has a role in the mindreading system, a connected system of cortical areas that allow us to attribute mental states to others. Just as the Capgras’ patient claims that that man is not his father, the patient with asomatognosia claims that his arm is not really his. A similar account applies here, in that a nearby brain area, the supramarginal gyrus, is damaged. This area works in concert with the temporoparietal junction and other areas to produce a large representation of a mind inside a body situated in an environment. Damage to the mind-representing part of this system (coupled with damage to executive processes in the prefrontal lobes) causes Capgras’ syndrome, whereas damage to the body-representing part of this system (also coupled with executive damage) causes asomatognosia.