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Hist Psychiatry. 2006 Dec;17(68 Pt 4):461-8.

Hysteria and catatonia as motor disorders in historical context.

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  • 1Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, 88 College Street, Room 207, Toronto, Canada M5G 1L4.


It is difficult to imagine motor symptoms in psychiatry as different as hysteria and catatonia. The mechanism of hysteria is presumed to be psychogenic, while catatonia has always been considered to be among the most organic syndromes in psychiatry. Yet hysteria and catatonia have historically been regarded as allied conditions, an observation borne out by recent developments in neuroscience as well as by a growing awareness that the presentation of both conditions has changed over the years. In hysteria, the main shift has been from motor symptoms to sensory complaints such as chronic fatigue; in catatonia, the major change has been the virtual disappearance of negativistic or oppositional behaviour. It is possible that catatonia as well as hysteria may be responsive to changing cultural norms.

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