Brainfood: Are You Suffering From - Stendhal Syndrome

Named after the 19th-century French author, this ailment describes the reaction many of us get when exposed to too much art. The author first describes its effects in Rome, Naples and Florence: a Journey from Milan to Reggio, after his visit to Florence in 1817. Symptoms include rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion, even hallucinations. Psychiatrists see a few hundred cases a year in Italy, though Stendhal Syndrome - coined in 1982 - also describes the reaction many of us have when confronted with too much choice in moisturisers, running shoes, airlines or even cereal packets. Some have palpitations deciding which newspaper to buy in the morning. The term also applies to the reaction people have when listening to music, though hallucinations are as likely to be triggered by today's supersized amplifiers as by the emotions music incites. Recovery includes restricting museum visits to one a day, shopping online, sticking to one airline and reading whatever newspaper was left behind by the last passenger.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Helen Kirwan-Taylor, helen@kirwantaylor.com.

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