Posted in Psychology & Medicine


Hanging is one of the most popular methods of execution and suicide throughout the ages. It is typically performed by fashioning a noose (most commonly with the eponymous hangman’s knot), placing it around the victim’s (or own) neck. The person then falls from a short height (e.g. dropped from a stand or stepping off a stool), upon which the force of the body pulling down causes the noose to tighten. This can kill a person via two ways. Firstly, if the force of the drop and the knot is strong enough, the sheer force of the noose tightening and the person being suspended by their neck will cause their neck to break. This causes spinal cord injury at the cervical level, where the brainstem lies. When the brainstem is damaged, the person loses control of autonomic processes such as breathing, causing instant death. Secondly, if the neck does not break, the person will be strangulated by the noose. This will kill the person through either choking (from airway obstruction) or brain ischaemia (as the carotid arteries are cut off). Pressure on the carotid artery may also cause something called a carotid reflex, where powerful nervous signals cause the heart to beat so slowly that it stops.

It is said that whether a person dies a quick, clean death via neck fracture or a slow, painful death via strangulation depends on how good the knot is. A hangman’s knot is made up of a loop with a series of coils above it. The more coils there are, the more friction it adds to the knot, making the noose harder to pull closed. A true hangman’s knot is defined as thirteen coils, which provides enough resistance to cause a neck fracture when a person falls. If there are fewer knots than that, the knot will tighten too quickly around the neck and not provide enough resistance to cause a neck fracture. This leads to strangulation, which is far more excruciating and a very inhumane way to die. If there are too many knots, there will be too much resistance and there is a risk of decapitation, leading to a very messy situation.

In forensic medicine, there are certain signs that reveal a victim was hung. For example, the C2 spine (second vertebrae in the neck) will exhibit a hangman’s fracture, where there is fractures on both sides. Fracture of the hyoid bone (a small bone below the chin) is also a classic sign of hanging. There will also be bruises along where the noose was and every sphincter would be open (which leads to immediate voiding of the bowels and bladder at the time of death). If the person died of strangulation rather than neck fracture, they will show signs of asphyxiation, such as blue lips (cyanosis). Another interesting result of hanging is something called a death erection. As the name suggests, it is when a corpse is found with an erection, most likely due to hanging. This is probably caused by the noose crushing the cerebellum, causing a reflex erection. The same phenomenon has been observed in women as well.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Babinski Reflex

Normally when you tickle or stroke the sole of your feet, the toes flex inwards. However, when a newborn’s feet are tickled or stroked, the toes spread outwards. This is known as the Babinski reflex, or Babinski sign. It is a primitive reflex that disappears before 12 months of age.
If this reflex is seen after that, including adults, it is a sign there is something wrong with the nervous system, especially the brainstem or the spinal cord.

A primitive reflex is one shown by newborns but disappears gradually as they develop. These include reflexes such as the walking reflex, swimming reflex and crawling reflex that shows actions that they have not yet learnt, or the rooting reflex and sucking reflex that ensures the baby’s survival.