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Psychosomatics. 1990 Spring;31(2):121-8.

Darwin's illness: a biopsychosocial perspective.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA School of Medicine 90024-1759.


Throughout an illustrious scientific career, Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) suffered from a mysterious and disabling malady. The illness, which was characterized by depressed feelings and violent and uncomfortable cardiac palpitations, gastric upsets, and headaches, began shortly after Darwin returned from a five-year voyage to South America as the naturalist of the Beagle. One explanation for Darwin's symptoms is he suffered from Chagas' disease as a result of being bitten by an insect common to South America. More psychodynamically oriented theorists speculate that Darwin's illness was an expression of repressed anger toward his father. Others have noted a familial vulnerability to the symptoms Darwin described. The author examines these theories and suggests that they all may have validity in explaining the mysterious illness of Charles Darwin.

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