Jumping Frenchmen and Science


I live with a fellow scientist and we share a gallows sense of humor. Gallows as in scaffold for the hangman.

This comes in handy as we prepare for autumn’s arrival and a spooky Halloween.

The prankster in me allows me to hide in a corner and pounce at the unsuspecting passer-by, and my scientist-honey told me that some folks are so touchy when they get spooked they can leap skyward.

The condition is an exaggerated startle reflex, also known as the Jumpin’ Frenchmen of Maine.

And not just Frenchmen.

Jumpin’ Lumberjack Frenchmen of Maine.

Seems the label appeared at the turn of last century when a scientist observed that a cluster of French immigrants who worked as lumberjacks in Maine inherited the startle reflex.

Folks who inherit the syndrome can get really spooked: so much so their physical reaction is a marvel of human science: they leap and surge like a flock of frightened geese.

If they could fly, they would.

Now that will make Halloween interesting.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, health, science, science communication and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Jumping Frenchmen and Science

  1. conrad s ramirez says:

    i do not like to be startled ,,but we,, enjoy ,,, halloween!! corndogs hay rides and dress up!!


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