UNEASE DISEASE - Jumping Frenchmen of Maine?

The Maine Sunday Telegram this week brought with it the usual freakish insert of Parade Magazine, a national tabloid-like publication distributed only through Sunday newspapers. In this week's, though, was a disturbing article called "Could You Have a Rare Disease?" (full text available online tomorrow).

In the article, it asks whether the reader might have a disease called "Jumping Frenchmen of Maine condition." Research by an interested Portlander who contacted us suggests that this was originally considered a medical condition, related to "hyperekplexia," or "excessive startle response."

One article archived at the National Institutes of Health indicates that the condition was described in 1878 as involving such an immediate and unquestioning response to an abrupt verbal command that "if one of them was abruptly asked to strike another, he would do so without hesitation, even if it was his mother and he had an ax in his hand." (One asks: how did they test this theory?)

A 1986 study ultimately determined that the condition was "not a neurologic disease" but instead a result of conditioned behavior related to life in Maine lumber camps in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Which means that lumber camps were so dangerous, if anyone shouted at you to do something, you did it or you died - even if it was swinging an ax at your mother.

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