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Alice in Wonderland Syndrome - AIWS

Explain the Issue

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is a disorder that was first described in 1955 by John Todd, a British psychiatrist. There has not been much research that can be done for this syndrome because it is a rare syndrome. Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is a perceptual disorder that is characterized by distortions of visual perception. There are distortions of sensory perception rather than hallucinations or illusions.

Typically, this disorder affects young children, mainly young girls. Blom (2016) stated the following:

First described in 1955, Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AIWS) is a perceptual disorder characterized by distortions of visual perception (metamorphopsias), the body schema, and the experience of time. The name refers to Lewis Carroll’s well-known children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in which Alice feels (among other things) her body growing both larger and smaller. (para. 4)

This description about how Alice felt, gives a clear description on how people with this syndrome feel for short periods of time throughout the day. Blom goes on to state, “AIWS symptoms have both diagnostic and therapeutic consequences that differ substantially and other hallucinatory syndromes.” (para. 4)

When this disorder was first described, many people thought that this seemed strange. Typically, when people read or hear stories, such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it is not thought that these stories could be true. After children explained how they felt whether they felt larger or smaller than they truly are, then it was believed that they were either on a hallucinogenic drug or that they had a mental disorder.

Examine Assumptions

When researching this disorder many assumptions were made regarding different aspects of this disorder. Assumptions are not always accurate; however, they are able to show different ways in which people think. All the following assumptions were made by Marissa Prince’s General Psychology class.

The first assumption that was made is that the first person who was diagnosed with Alice in Wonderland syndrome was originally thought to be insane. The first person who was diagnosed was diagnosed in 1955. Before this syndrome had been discovered by John Todd, many people were thought to be insane if they would have described the symptoms of this disorder. In earlier time periods, people may have been put into mental institutions if they were to explain to someone that they felt either larger or smaller than they really are.

Another assumption is that If a parent is diagnosed with this syndrome then the children will most likely be diagnosed as well. This syndrome is passed down through genetics, so this is a valid assumption that could be tested by looking into the genetics of a person that has been diagnosed. If one parent is diagnosed with AIWS then they have two children, it is more likely that if they had a boy and a girl the girl will be diagnosed rather then the boy. This syndrome is more common in girls than it is in boys. In a study of adolescents, conducted by Bolm, the results showed that 5.6% of the males tested had this syndrome. On the other hand, 6.2% of the females tested had this syndrome. Other studies that have been conducted showed similar results.

Research Summary

Throughout research studies that have been conducted, it was found that Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is caused by migraines. Since AIWS is still a fairly new syndrome, researchers do not have a full understanding of the causes or treatments. It has been found that as children grow up and turn into young adults, generally, they grow out of the syndrome. Researchers are still not sure what causes people to grow out of the syndrome, as this is an aspect of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome that is still being studied.

Within the research that has previously been conducted, researchers were able to find some of the risk factors. These risk factors are able to show people if they have a greater risk of developing Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. However, a common misconception that some people have is that they may believe that if they have one of the risk factors they will be diagnosed with the syndrome. This is not fully accurate. Risk factors show which people have a higher risk of developing the syndrome or disorder. Even if a person has one of the following risk factors, they may never be diagnosed with or experience Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. In the article by Holland it states the following:

Are there associated conditions or other risk factors?

Several conditions are linked to AWS. The following may increase your risk for it:

  • Migraines. AWS may be a type of aura, or a sensory warning of a coming migraine. Some doctors also believe AWS may be a subtype of migraines.
  • Infections. AWS episodes may be an early symptom of the Epstein-Bar virus (EBV). This virus can cause infectious mononucleosis, or mono.
  • Genetics. If you have a family history of migraines and AWS, you may have a higher risk for experiencing this rare condition. (para. 19)

Examine Perspectives

A part of scientific research and psychology is to examine different perspectives that exist. Some perspectives that researchers have looked at for Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is the difference between males and females.

Jan Dirk Blom is a researcher who has looked into whether gender plays a part in if a person is more likely to be diagnosed with AIWS. Out of a total of 169 patients in a study, 162 had their gender listed. 132 of the patients were under the age of 18, while the other 34 patients were 19 years and older. It is critical that all of this information was shared by Blom so that the reader gets a full understanding of what the researchers looked into. Another perspective that was looked at was age, however, gender was the main focus. In the article, Blom has the results of the study listed. From the study, all of the patients had been diagnosed with Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. 55.6% of these patients were male.

In another study, with a larger population, different results were found. Bolm references a few studies in order to compare the results. In the article, under Epidemiology, Bolm states the following:

A cross-sectional study of 1,480 adolescents found a lifetime prevalence of micropsia and/or macropsia of 5.6% for males and 6.2% for females. A second cross-sectional study of 3,224 high school students found 6-month prevalence rates of 3.8% for micropsia, 3.9% for macropsia, 2.5% for protracted duration, and 1.3% for the quick-motion phenomenon. A third cross-sectional study of 297 individuals with a median age of 25.7 years found lifetime prevalence rates of 30.3% for teleopsia, 18.5% for dysmorphopsia, 15.1% for macropsia, and 14.1% for micropsia. This study also showed that 38.9% of the affected individuals experienced a single symptom, 33.6% experienced 2, 10.6% experienced 3, and 16.8% experienced 4. (para. 10)

Currently there is no epidemiologic data on Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.

Self-Awareness

After conducting some research, there were assumptions that had been proven wrong. Several assumptions had been made before conducting any research about what would be found. However, after doing research and looking into different studies, several of these assumptions had been proven false.

One assumption that had been made was that adults, or people over the age of 18, would be more likely to be diagnosed with Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. This assumption was partially correct. The part of the assumption that was correct was that some young adults are diagnosed with this syndrome. However, it is more often for children to be diagnosed. Since the fist person was diagnosed with AIWS, there have not been more than 169 cases that have been published. Of these cases only 34 people were young adults and 132 were under the age of 18 years old. Only 166 patients of the 169 patients had their age listed on the record. The mean age of all of those patients is 15.5 years old.

Another assumption was that when a person is diagnosed with this disorder, they will have it for the rest of their life. It was found that most people who are diagnosed with Alice in Wonderland Syndrome eventually grow out of the perceptions as they grow older. Part of this may be for the fact that, in general, children have a larger imagination than adults do. This allows children and young adults to imagine different scenarios. Even children who are not diagnosed with AIWS “make believe.” This is where they pretend to be a creature such as a giant, fairy, princess or prince, and even a mermaid. As people grow older, they stop imaging different scenarios that are more common for children to talk about. This is one theory as to why younger people are more commonly diagnosed with Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.

Establish a Conclusion

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is a disorder that was first described in 1955 by John Todd, a British psychiatrist. There has not been much research that can be done for this syndrome because it is a rare syndrome. Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is a perceptual disorder that is characterized by distortions of visual perception. There are distortions of sensory perception rather than hallucinations or illusions.

After conducting research and looking into different studies, one can conclude that there are several different factors that play a role in the diagnosis of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome within different people. Several studies that were testing the same aspects of AIWS, all had different results. One can conclude that this can be a result to the fact that there are several factors that were different in each of these studies. Some of the differences include the patient population size, and gender ratio.

When this disorder was first described, many people thought that this seemed strange. Typically, when people read or hear stories, such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it is not thought that these stories could be true. After children explained how they felt whether they felt larger or smaller than they truly are, then it was believed that they were either on a hallucinogenic drug or that they had a mental disorder.


References

Blom, J. D. (2016, June). Alice in Wonderland syndrome: A systematic review. Neurology. Clinical practice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4909520/.

Holland, K. (2060, May 24). Alice in Wonderland Syndrome: Symptoms, Treatment, and More. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/alice-in-wonderland-syndrome.

© 2020 Hayley Langdon