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Jumping Frenchmen of Maine is a rare disorder originally described by G. M. Beard in 1878. It results in an exaggerated "startle" reflex, and was first noted among related French-Canadian lumberjacks in the area of Maine. It is not clear if the disorder is neurological or psychological.
The "Jumping Frenchmen" seemed to react abnormally to sudden stimuli. Beard recorded, 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. Beard also noticed that the condition was often shared within a family, suggesting that it was inherited.
The interest sparked by Beard's publication about the disorder inspired Georges Gilles de la Tourette to investigate what later became known as Tourette's syndrome. Further studies of the condition in the 1980s, however, cast doubt on whether the "Jumping Frenchmen" phenomenon was in fact a physical condition like Tourette's. Documentation of direct observation of "Jumping Frenchmen" has been scarce, and while videotape evidence was recorded by several researchers that showed the condition to be real, Saint-Hilaire concluded from studying eight affected people that it was brought on by conditions at their lumber camps and was psychological, not neurological.
- Beard G. Remarks upon jumpers or jumping Frenchmen. J Nerv Ment Dis 1878;5: 526.
- Beard G. Experiments with the jumpers of Maine. Pop Sci Monthly (NY) 1880;18: 170-178.
- Howard R, Ford R (1992). From the jumping Frenchmen of Maine to post-traumatic stress disorder: the startle response in neuropsychiatry.. Psychol Med 22 (3): 695-707. PMID 1410093.
- Saint-Hilaire M, Saint-Hilaire J, Granger L (1986). Jumping Frenchmen of Maine.. Neurology 36 (9): 1269-71. PMID 3528919.
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