UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Strange Brains and Case Studies


Over the years, we have been compiling case studies in neuroscience to use for teaching (with help from Bill Meil). Below, is a list of bizarre things that might happen to your brain and associated case studies when possible. Wikipedia descriptions and links have been provided as an introduction to these strange brains and reference to popular science books are provided for case studies. Neither should be considered the paragon of truth and both should be read with some, if not heaps of skepticism. That said, case studies are a useful method of explication because, among other reasons, they add a humanistic element and provide a flavour for how incredibly interesting and strange the brain is that is often lacking in (dry) neuroscience textbooks.

Essential Reading

Meil, W. M. (2007). The use of case studies in teaching undergraduate neuroscience. Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education: JUNE: A Publication of FUN, Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience, 5(2), A53–A62.



An acquired impairment in which patients have difficulty performing simple mathematical tasks, such as adding, subtracting, multiplying and even simply stating which of two numbers is larger. Acalculia is distinguished from dyscalculia in that acalculia is acquired late in life due to neurological injury such as stroke, while dyscalculia is a specific developmental disorder first observed during the acquisition of mathematical knowledge.

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acalculia


‘Typically refers to an autosomal recessive congenital color vision disorder, the inability to perceive color AND to achieve satisfactory visual acuity at high light levels (typically exterior daylight).'

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achromatopsia

Case Study


‘A syndrome that results when the pituitary gland produces excess growth hormone (hGH) after epiphyseal plate closure at puberty.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agrammatism

Case Study I

Case Study II


‘Agrammatism is a characteristic of non-fluent aphasia. Individuals with agrammatism present with speech that is characterized by containing mainly content words, with a lack of function words. For example, when asked to describe a picture of children playing in the park, the affected individual responds with, “trees.. children.. run.”'

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agrammatism


AKA – Motion Blindness

‘An extremely rare neuropsychological disorder in which a patient cannot perceive motion in his/her visual field, despite being able to see stationary objects without issue.'

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_blindness


AKA – Text Blindness, Visual Aphasia, Word Blindness

‘Damage to the brain causes a patient to lose the ability to read.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexia_(acquired_dyslexia)


‘A state of deficiency in understanding, processing, or describing emotions.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexithymia

Alice in Wonderland syndrome

AKA – Todd’s syndrome

‘A disorienting neurological condition which affects human perception. Sufferers may experience micropsia, macropsia, and/or size distortion of other sensory modalities.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_in_Wonderland_syndrome

Alien Hand Syndrome

AKA – Anarchic Hand or Dr Strangelove Syndrome

‘An unusual neurological disorder in which one of the sufferer’s hands seem to take on a mind of its own.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_Hand_Syndrome


‘A neurological disorder in which the patient responds to stimuli presented to one side of their body as if the stimuli had been presented at the opposite side.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allochiria


‘A musical disorder that appears mainly as a defect in processing pitch, but it also encompasses musical memory and recognition.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amusia

Case Study I

Case Study II

Anarchic Hand Syndrome

See – Alien Hand Syndrome


‘A severe problem with recalling words or names.’

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anomia


‘condition in which a person who suffers disability seems unaware of or denies the existence of his or her disability. This may include unawareness of quite dramatic impairments, such as blindness or paralysis

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anosognosia

Case Study

Antero- and Retrograde Amnesia

Categories – Memory

‘Anterograde amnesia is a loss of the ability to create new memories after the event that caused the amnesia, leading to a partial or complete inability to recall the recent past, while long term memories from before the event remain intact.” and “Retrograde amnesia is a form of amnesia where someone is unable to recall events that occurred before the development of the amnesia.’

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anterograde_Amnesia

Case Study I

Case Study II

  • Title – Marooned in the Moment: H.M. a Case of Global Amnesia
  • Notes – Case of Henry Gustav Molaison (i.e., H.M.), who was “a memory-impaired patient who was widely studied from the late 1950s until his death. His case played a very important role in the development of theories that explain the link between brain function and memory, and in the development of cognitive neuropsychology, a branch of psychology that aims to understand how the structure and function of the brain relates to specific psychological processes.” This case study has a qualitative twist.
  • Reference – Ogden, J. A. (2005). Fractured minds. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • See also – Korsakoff’s syndrome

Anton–Babinski Syndrome

‘People who suffer from it are “cortically blind”, but affirm, often quite adamantly and in the face of clear evidence of their blindness, that they are capable of seeing.’


‘An acquired language disorder in which there is an impairment of any language modality.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphasia

Case Study


‘A neurological condition characterized by the inability of a person to properly convey and/or interpret emotional prosody.’

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aprosodia

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Aspergers

‘The autism spectrum disorders is a spectrum of psychological conditions characterized by widespread abnormalities of social interactions and communication, as well as severely restricted interests and highly repetitive behavior.” and “Asperger’s syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism_spectrum

Case Study I

Case Study II

Case Study III

Case Study IV

  • Title – The Surfing Savant
  • Notes – Compelling story of how Pro surfer’s Asperger’s symptoms both help and hinder him.
  • Reference – Solotaroff, P (2010) The Surfing Savant. Rolling Stone. Issue 1102, April 15, 2010
  • More links



‘Is agnosia that affects the sense of posture; characterized by an inability to localize and orient different parts of the body.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autotopagnosia

Case Study


Balint’s Syndrome

‘Characterized by optic ataxia (incoordination of hand and eye movement), oculomotor apraxia (the inability to voluntarily guide eye movements/ change to a new location of visual fixation), and simultanagnosia (the inability to perceive more than one object at a time, even when in the same place).‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balint’s_syndrome


Capgras Delusion

‘A disorder in which a person holds a delusion that a friend, spouse, parent or other close family member has been replaced by an identical-looking impostor. The Capgras delusion is classed as a delusional misidentification syndrome, a class of delusional beliefs that involves the misidentification of people, places, or objects. It can occur in acute, transient, or chronic forms.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capgras_delusion

Case Study

Cerebral Achromatopsia

‘A type of color-blindness that is caused by damage to the cerebral cortex of the brain, rather than abnormalities in the cells of the eye’s retina.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerebral_achromatopsia

Charles Bonnet Syndrome

‘A condition that causes patients with visual loss to have complex visual hallucinations.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Bonnet_Syndrome

Case Study

Conduction Aphasia

AKA – Associative Aphasia

‘An acquired language disorder, it is characterized by intact auditory comprehension, fluent (yet paraphasic) speech production, but poor speech repetition.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conduction_aphasia

Cotard Delusion or Syndrome

AKA – Walking Corpse Syndrome

‘A rare neuropsychiatric disorder in which people hold a delusional belief that they are dead (either figuratively or literally), do not exist, are putrefying, or have lost their blood or internal organs. Rarely, it can include delusions of immortality.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotard_Delusion



‘A specific [developmental] learning disability or difficulty involving… difficulty in learning or comprehending mathematics.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discalculia

Dr Strangelove Syndrome

  • See – Alien Hand Syndrome


‘Also known as pseudo-foreign dialect syndrome, refers to a disorder in which one or more of these prosodic functions are either compromised or eliminated completely.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysprosody

Encephalitis Lethargica

‘The disease attacks the brain, leaving some victims in a statue-like condition, speechless and motionless.‘

From – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encephalitis_lethargica

Case Study

  • Title – Awakenings
  • Notes – ‘They would be conscious and aware – yet not fully awake; they would sit motionless and speechless all day in their chairs, totally lacking energy, impetus, initiative, motive, appetite, affect or desire; they registered what went on about them without active attention, and with profound indifference. They neither conveyed nor felt the feeling of life; they were as insubstantial as ghosts, and as passive as zombies.
  • Reference – Sacks, O. (1990). Awakenings. HarperPerennial.

Expressive or Broca’s Aphasia

‘Is characterized by the loss of the ability to produce language (spoken or written).‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expressive_aphasia

Case Study


Foreign Accent Syndrome

‘To the untrained ear, those with the syndrome sound as though they speak their native languages with a foreign accent.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_Accent_Syndrome

Fregoli Delusion

‘A rare disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that different people are in fact a single person who changes appearance or is in disguise.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fregoli_delusion

Gaze-Evoked Tinnitus

‘Hear a ringing sound when looking to the left (or right).‘

From – Coad ML, Lockwood A, Salvi R, Burkard R. (2001). Characteristics of patients with gaze-evoked tinnitus. Otol Neurotol. 22(5):650-4.


‘A condition in which the limbs on one side of the body have severe weakness. Hemiplegia is more severe than hemiparesis, wherein one half of the body has less marked weakness.[1]Hemiplegia may be congenital or acquired from an illness or stroke.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemiplegia

Case Study I

Case Study II

Hemispatial Neglect

‘A condition in which, after damage to one hemisphere of the brain, a deficit in attention to and awareness of one side of space is observed.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemispatial_neglect

Case Study I

Case Study II

A dog with unilateral neglect: https://youtu.be/hHo-y7WJIlU

Huntington’s Disease

‘A progressive neurodegenerative genetic disorder, which affects muscle coordination and leads to cognitive decline and dementia. It typically becomes noticeable in middle age. HD is the most common genetic cause of abnormal involuntary writhing movements called chorea and is much more common in people of Western European descent than in those from Asia or Africa.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huntington’s_disease

Case Study I

Case Study II

Case Study III


‘It can be viewed as a superability in which word recognition ability goes far above expected levels of skill.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperlexia


Ideomotor Apraxia

‘A neurological disorder characterized by the inability to correctly imitate hand gestures and voluntarily pantomime tool use, e.g. pretend to brush one’s hair.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideomotor_apraxia

Jumping Frenchmen of Maine

‘It results in an exaggerated “startle” reflex.. for instance, individuals who would obey any command given suddenly, even if it meant striking a loved one, and repeat back unfamiliar or foreign phrases uncontrollably.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumping_Frenchmen_of_Maine

Korsakoff’s Syndrome

Category – Memory

‘a neurological disorder caused by the lack of thiamine (vitamin B1) in the brain… There are six major symptoms of Korsakoff’s syndrome: 1) anterograde amnesia; 2) retrograde amnesia; 3) confabulation, that is, invented memories which are then taken as true due to gaps in memory sometimes associated with blackouts; 4) meager content in conversation; 5) lack of insight; and 6) apathy.’

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korsakoff’s_syndrome

Case Study I

Case Study II

King-Kopetzky Syndrome

‘Difficulty in hearing speech in the presence of background noise. This is in conjunction with the finding of normal hearing test results.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King-Kopetzky_syndrome

Kluver-Bucy Syndrome

‘Symptoms.. included are… Docility; Dietary changes; Hyperorality; Hypersexuality; Visual agnosia.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kluver-Bucy_Syndrome


AKA – Megalopia

‘A neurological condition affecting human visual perception, in which objects within an affected section of the visual field appear larger than normal, causing the subject to feel smaller.‘


  • See – Macropsia


‘A condition affecting human visual perception in which objects are perceived to be smaller than they actually are.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micropsia

Motion Blindness

  • See – Akinetopsia

Multiple sclerosis or MS

‘is a disease in which the fatty myelin sheaths around the axons of the brain and spinal cord are damaged, leading to demyelination and scarring as well as a broad spectrum of signs and symptoms… The person with MS can suffer almost any neurological symptom or sign, including changes in sensation (hypoesthesia and paraesthesia), muscle weakness, muscle spasms, or difficulty in moving; difficulties with coordination and balance (ataxia); problems in speech (dysarthria) or swallowing (dysphagia), visual problems (nystagmus, optic neuritis, or diplopia), fatigue, acute or chronic pain, and bladder and bowel difficulties. Cognitive impairment of varying degrees and emotional symptoms of depression or unstable mood are also common.[1] Uhthoff’s phenomenon, an exacerbation of extant symptoms due to an exposure to higher than usual ambient temperatures, and Lhermitte’s sign, an electrical sensation that runs down the back when bending the neck, are particularly characteristic of MS although not specific.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_sclerosis

Case Study I

Case Study II


‘A feature of aphasia in which one loses the ability of speaking correctly, substitutes one word for another, and changes words and sentences in an inappropriate way.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraphasia

Parkinson’s disease

‘A degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that often impairs the sufferer’s motor skills, speech, and other functions.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinsons

Case Study I

Case Study II

Phantom Limb

‘Is the sensation that an amputated or missing limb (even an organ, like the appendix) is still attached to the body and is moving appropriately with other body parts.[1][2][3] Approximately 60 to 80% of individuals with an amputation experience phantom sensations in their amputated limb, and the majority of the sensations are painful.[4] Phantom sensations may also occur after the removal of body parts other than the limbs, e.g. after amputation of the breast, extraction of a tooth (phantom tooth pain) or removal of an eye (phantom eye syndrome). The missing limb often feels shorter and may feel as if it is in a distorted and painful position.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantom_Limb

Case Study

Pragmatic language impairment

‘People with these impairments have special challenges with the semantic aspect of language (the meaning of what is being said) and the pragmatics of language (using language appropriately in social situations).‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pragmatic_language_impairment


‘A disorder of face perception where the ability to recognize faces is impaired, while the ability to recognize other objects may be relatively intact.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosopagnosia

Pure Word Deafness

‘Inability to comprehend the meaning of speech, but (in most cases) still being able to hear, speak, read, and write.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pure_Word_Deafness

Receptive or Wernicke’s Aphasia

‘Speech is preserved, but language content is incorrect.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Receptive_aphasia

Case Study

Reduplicative Paramnesia

‘Is the delusional belief that a place or location has been duplicated, existing in two or more places simultaneously, or that it has been ‘relocated’ to another site.‘


‘A severe mental illness characterized by a disintegration of the process of thinking, of contact with reality, and of emotional responsiveness. It most commonly manifests as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking with significant social or occupational dysfunction.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schizophrenia


‘A type of monothematic delusion where one denies ownership of a limb or an entire side of one’s body.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somatoparaphrenia


‘A neurologically-based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia

Case Study

Other links


Text Blindness

  • See – Alexia

Todd’s syndrome

  • See – Alice in Wonderland syndrome

Tourette’s Syndrome

Category – Motor

‘Characterized by multiple physical (motor) tics and at least one vocal (phonic) tic.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourette’s_Syndrome

Case Study I

Case Study II

Case Study III

Other links


Visual Agnosia

‘The inability of the brain to make sense of or make use of some part of otherwise normal visual stimulus and is typified by the inability to recognize familiar objects or faces.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_agnosia

Visual Aphasia

See – Alexia

Walking Corpse Syndrome

See – Cotard’s Delusion

Williams Syndrome

‘A distinctive, “elfin” facial appearance, along with a low nasal bridge; an unusually cheerful demeanor and ease with strangers; developmental delay coupled with unusual (for persons who are diagnosed as developmentally delayed) language skills; and cardiovascular problems, such as supravalvular aortic stenosis and transient hypercalcaemia.‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williams_Syndrome

Wilson’s Disease

‘An autosomal recessive genetic disorder in which copper accumulates in tissues… about half the patients with Wilson’s have neurological or psychiatric problems. Most patients initially have mild cognitive deterioration and clumsiness, as well as changes in behavior. Specific neurological symptoms then follow, often in the form of parkinsonism (increased rigidity and slowing of routine movements) with or without a typical hand tremor, masked facial expressions, slurred speech, ataxia (lack of coordination) or dystonia (twisting and repetitive movements of part of the body).‘

From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilson’s_disease

Case Study

Word Blindness

  • See – Alexia