The Jumping Frenchmen of Maine: Strange disorder found in the far reaches of northern Maine, mostly in lumber camps, in the late 19th c.
The sufferers would display the reflex response even when told do so meant injuring themselves or loved ones. And Beard was fairly sure this wasn’t a question of sadomasochism running through the lumber camps — the uniform nature of the hits, and the fact that they were never tempered or moderated by conscious thought, argued strongly for these being involuntary actions.
So what exactly caused this behavior? This particular instance may have had some genetic component, considering most of the sufferers were closely related and came from one of four families, but that may just speak to the insular nature of the French-Canadian lumberjack community in 19th century Maine. (As you can imagine, that’s not a particularly big demographic.) In their 2001 appraisal of the disorder, Marie-Helene Saint-Hilaire and Jean-Marc Saint-Hilaire argue that the disorder — and others like it found around the world — are “a culturally specific exploitation of a universal neurophysiological response, the startle reflex”, and a particular artifact of “closed and unsophisticated communities such as lumber camps in the 19th and early 20th centuries.”