How Long Can a Decapitated Head Remain Conscious?

Man in a suit has an invisible head. He is wearing a suit and raises his arm.

Come on, be honest…you’ve thought about this question before…

Or maybe you’ve just seen the classic horror film Re-Animator a bunch of times and it’s always kind of just stuck in your brain…

Either way, it is an interesting question to ponder…how long does a decapitated head remain conscious?

Think back to the days when public guillotine executions were commonplace. There have been stories of people who were beheaded reacting after they, ahem, lost their heads.

It’s said that Anne Boleyn tried to speak after she was beheaded in 1536. And rumor has it that French Revolution figure Charlotte Corday frowned and her cheeks became flush after she was beheaded in 1793 and a man lifted up her head.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Are these stories true or are they just folklore?

When a person is decapitated, the blood vessels in the neck are severed and the oxygen supply is cut off. So basically the head would be able to use whatever oxygen was left in the blood and tissue, but it wouldn’t last long.

And movement in the severed head would only be possible for tissue and structures that were still actually attached to the head, like nerves that control the eyes and the mouth.

Researchers have looked into people who have suffered cardiac arrest and near-death experiences to try to find answers. These peoples’ hearts stopped, but they were still able to later relate what was going around them while they were being resuscitated. One study even showed brain activity thirty minutes after the heart stopped beating.

Research shows that there is still activity in the brain after the heart stops and a “final wave” of activity known as spreading depolarisation” occurs after the heart stops beating and it lasts minutes. This activity is significant enough to be detected by an electroencephalogram that monitors electrical activity in the brain.

Although the exact amount of time a person can remain conscious after being decapitated is still up for debate, it seems like the evidence points to some kind of brain activity going on if you happen to be beheaded in a nice and clean manner.

Let’s hope none of us ever have to worry about this.

What do you think? Is this stuff creepy, or what? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Let’s get weird!