The Fregoli delusion

A disorder of person identification and tracking

Robyn Langdon*, Emily Connaughton, Max Coltheart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Fregoli delusion is the mistaken belief that some person currently present in the deluded person's environment (typically a stranger) is a familiar person in disguise. The stranger is believed to be psychologically identical to this known person (who is not present) even though the deluded person perceives the physical appearance of the stranger as being different from the known person's typical appearance. To gain a deeper understanding of this contradictory error in the normal system for tracking and identifying known persons, we conducted a detailed survey of all the Fregoli cases reported in the literature since the seminal Courbon and Fail (1927) paper. Our preliminary reading of these cases revealed a notable lack of definitional clarity. So, we first formulated a classification scheme of different person misidentification delusions so as to identify those cases that qualified as instances of Fregoli according to the above characterization: the mistaken belief that a known person is present in the environment in a different guise to his or her typical appearance. We identified 38 clear cases of this type and set out to answer a series of questions motivated by current hypotheses about the origin of the Fregoli delusion. We asked whether the patients misidentified particular strangers, made reference to the misidentified known persons using wigs or plastic surgery (or other techniques to disguise their appearance), misidentified many different strangers or only one, showed other symptoms (in particular, other misidentification delusions), and made inferences about the motives of the known persons in disguise. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for current hypotheses concerning the origin of the Fregoli delusion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615-631
Number of pages17
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Volume6
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2014

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