Alien Hand Syndrome: The Attack of the Estranged Hand

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Alien Hand Syndrome: The Attack of the Estranged Hand

Alien hand syndrome is a rare disorder usually resulting from brain trauma or injury / Photo by Wikimedia Commons


A hand moving contrary to the will of its owner is actually not an occurrence that can merely be found in movies. In reality, it is a neurological condition that makes an individual get the sensation that their hand has its own identity like it is possessed or it is alien to them.

This is identified as the Alien Hand syndrome, a rare disorder usually resulting from brain trauma or injury as stated by

The first person to be able to record this condition in 1908 was a German psychiatrist and neurologist named Kurt Goldstein.

One of Goldstein’s patients, a 57-year-old woman, complained that her left hand kept moving by itself like it had a will of its own like it was always scheming an evil plan. She narrated that her hands would continue their involuntary movement and that her fingers would try to touch any object within their reach. She also added that if she was not watching her hand, she would not know what else it would be doing. Sometimes, her hand would wrap itself around her throat and choke her. According to Damn Interesting, this caused her to try to fend off her rebellious hand with her more obedient hand.

Despite Goldstein being the first to record this peculiar case, it was only acknowledged as an official disease in 1972.

Since its recognition in 1909, HowStuffWorks says there have only been 40 to 50 reported cases of the Alien Hand Syndrome.



Alien Hand Syndrome (AHS) is a neurological disorder which is described as a condition where a person’s hand works involuntarily without them being aware of its actions.

It is also known as Dr. Strangelove Syndrome or anarchic hand.

Individuals affected by AHS have an uncontrollable hand that has normal strength and may engage in actions that they cannot comprehend or do not come from their own free will.

Their hand may make repetitive movements which may consist of attempting to tear clothing, grabbing objects, hair stroking or other similar movements.

A patient affected by this condition might try to argue with their hand, trying to reason with it in order for it to discontinue its unruly behavior. They may also attempt to punish the disobedient hand or attempt to peel it away from items it clings onto or grasps. There are also reports that state that these people may refer to their hand in the third person, even giving it a name. These individuals are also known to believe that these movements are caused by ghosts and gods.

Generally, the actions of the alien hand are harmless and may only cause mild annoyance or inconvenience to the person it belongs to.

However, there are some instances in which the condition is so severe that the hand inflicts pain on the owner.

There are some incidents in which the alienated hand may try to punch the person, choke them, rip their clothes, scratch them or make them unintentionally grab the steering wheel leading them to a car accident.

In some cases, it can even embarrass an individual since it can lead them to touch sensitive areas of their body in public which they originally did not plan to.




It is important to remember that Alien Hand Syndrome is not a psychiatric condition but a neurological one.

Since it is a neurological disorder, it is known to be caused by damage or injuries in certain parts of the brain. explains that these are linked to the disease-process in specific regions of the brain, such as:

1. Corpus callosum

This part of the brain is said to cause the symptoms of the alienated hand. This is attributed to intermanual conflict, where the hand behaves contrary to the will of the person.

2. Frontal lobe

This region of the brain is responsible for a person’s actions. It is also known as the motor area of the brain. When this area malfunctions, a person is likely to have AHS. This mostly forces a person to grab items as opposed to their intentions.


3. Parietal and Occipital lobes

These lobes are responsible for the unusual hand movements that are uncoordinated and often referred to as an alien. Although it is involuntary, the affectation of the parietal and occipital lobes is believed to be purposeful.


There are also some theories on what can cause a patient to suffer from  Alien Hand Syndrome. These theories include:

1. Theory of disconnections

This theory discusses that there is a separation between the person’s main control over their body movements and the voluntary actions involved. According to the theory, their movement becomes involuntary because the main control center of their movements has been disconnected. This disconnection causes a loss of sensation.

Due to it being disconnected, the person may not be able to feel that their “rebel hand” is doing something else.


2. Theory of loss of inhibitions

In this theory, it is believed that the system of the brain that regulates an individual’s actions is unable to control the alienated hand.  A person’s initiative to act is inhibited because that system which was supposed to control the system could not be controlled.




This neurological disorder is usually characterized by lacking control over the hand. Other symptoms are:

1. The hand doing  actions the individual is unaware of

2. The owner only becomes aware of its actions when the hand’s behavior is brought to her attention.

3. The person suffering from AHS believes that they may be possessed or that an alien is taking control of their hand



There are no specific treatments known to cure the condition, but there are some suggested approaches to help prevent the alienated hand from moving or “distracting” the hand from going off on its own by occupying it with other tasks or objects.


Management Techniques

One of the recommended therapies is called the Mirror Box. Under this therapy, the clinician uses a mirror illusion to make a reflection of the patient’s affected limb. The patient will be able to see that the movement of their limb has occurred without pain.

Another recommended way to manage their hand is to hold objects to prevent it from making unwanted movements.

Botulinum toxin, otherwise known as “Botox” may also help the patient deal with their disobedient hand. Using Botox can freeze their muscles for a short period and this can help lessen their spasms.


Botulinum toxin may help patient deal with their disobedient hand / Photo by Shutterstock


Alien Hand Syndrome is Still “Alien” To the Experts

With Alien Hand Syndrome being a rare case among patients, the data pertaining to it is still insufficient and limited. Many medical professionals perceive this neurological condition as a mystery and consider it a medical curiosity. Its diagnosis is also a debatable topic since its association with brain tumors was only revealed in the 1970s. This condition requires further research that may lead to more information about the subject and the discovery of a possible cure.



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