Capgras delusion: an interactionist model

Conscious Cogn. 2008 Sep;17(3):863-76. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2008.01.006. Epub 2008 Mar 7.


In this paper I discuss the role played by disturbed phenomenology in accounting for the formation and maintenance of the Capgras delusion. Whilst endorsing a two-stage model to explain the condition, I nevertheless argue that traditional accounts prioritise the role played by some form of second-stage cognitive disruption at the expense of the significant contribution made by the patient's disturbed phenomenology, which is often reduced to such uninformative descriptions as "anomalous" or "strange". By advocating an interactionist model, I argue that the delusional belief constitutes an attempt on the part of the patient to explain his/her initially odd and somewhat disturbed phenomenal content (which I refer to as a sense of estrangement) and, moreover, that the delusion then structures the patient's experience such that what he/she perceives is an impostor. This fact is used to explain the delusional belief's maintenance and resistance to revision. Thus, whilst accepting that second-stage cognitive disruption has a part to play in explaining the Capgras delusion, the emphasis here is placed on the role played by the patient's changing phenomenal content and its congruence with the delusional belief. Unlike traditional two-stage models, which posit a unidirectional progression from experience to belief, the interactionist model advocates a two-way interaction between bottom-up and top-down processes. The application of this model to other delusional beliefs is also considered.

MeSH terms

  • Capgras Syndrome / psychology*
  • Cognition Disorders
  • Culture
  • Delusions / psychology
  • Face
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Recognition, Psychology