Could you experience such a stressful event or such strong fear that your hair turns white overnight? Some people seem to think so. While the scientific name is canities subita, many use the terms “Marie Antoinette” or “Thomas More” syndrome to explain the phenomena—but does science back it up?

As White As A Ghost

Throughout history, there have been perhaps-apocryphal tales of figures who lived through such fear-inducing experiences that their hair turned completely white overnight. It sounds like a horror movie trope, or maybe the stuff of urban legend. Considering the way that stories about it have attached themselves to certain notable historical figures, it just might be.

When I was younger, I remember hearing about a woman who jumped over Niagara Falls in a barrel. When she emerged from her perilous journey, she was intact—save for her hair, which was bright white. While the story of the barrel jump is true, the part about the hair seems to be a dramatic flourish added later. The same is likely true of other historical figures who became attached to anecdotes about canities subita.

The post Fear Factor: What’s Behind “Marie Antoinette Syndrome”? appeared first on Factinate.


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