From Primitive Fear to Civilized Stress: Sudden Unexpected Death

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


“Voodoo Death.” By this I mean the casting of a fatal spell on a person by a king or priest or voodoo doctor exerting an influence among savage and superstitious people, with the result that the person who is credulous and terrorized by the spell is said to die.Walter B. Cannon, 1934The sudden and unexpected death of a presumably healthy person in the midst of his accustomed activities is one of the most dramatic and disturbing events in clinical practice and everyday experience. The tragedy is heightened when autopsy examination shows an essentially normal myocardium with minimal disease of the coronary arteries and no evidence of thrombotic occlusion.Edmund D. Pellegrino, “Sudden Death”Since “voodoo death” can be seen as comparable to our own society's “sudden death,” for which much anecdotal material is complemented by some clinical and pathophysiological assessment, we believe that “voodoo death” does refer to an empirical phenomenon whose complex dimensions are receiving more adequate description…. These noxious effects of belief and expectation have recently been called “nocebo.”Robert A. Hahn and Arthur Kleinman, “Belief as Pathogen”In 1942 Walter B. Cannon, head of the Department of Physiology at the Harvard Medical School, published his now-famous essay, “‘Voodoo’ Death.” In this study Cannon elucidated the mechanisms responsible for the detrimental physiological effects of “magic” spells or “voodoo” rituals in “primitive” societies.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationStress, Shock, and Adaptation in the Twentieth Century
EditorsDavid Cantor, Edmund Ramsden
Place of PublicationSuffolk
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781580468350
StatePublished - 2014

Publication series

NameRochester Studies in Medical History
PublisherBoydell & Brewer


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