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Mass hysteria — other names include collective hysteria, Mass Psychogenic Illness, or collective obsessional behavior — is the sociopsychological phenomenon of the manifestation of the same or similar hysterical symptoms by more than one person.[1][2] A common manifestation of mass hysteria occurs when a group of people believe they are suffering from a similar disease or ailment.[3]

Contents

Characteristics

Mass hysteria typically begins when an individual becomes ill or hysterical during a period of stress.[4] After this initial individual shows symptoms, others begin to manifest similar symptoms, typically nausea, muscle weakness, fits or headache.[5]

The features of mass hysteria include no plausible cause found, ambiguous symptoms, rapid escalation of cases - often spread by line of sight - and rapid remission of symptoms. Demographically, cases are higher in females and those with greater use of medical services. Other factors that contribute to the severity of the symptoms and spread are protective clothing worn by emergency services and mistaken or misleading investigations.

Sightings of religious miracles are often attributed to mass hysteria.[3]

Specific examples

In 2009 in Fort Worth, Texas, 34 people were sent to the hospital after they complained about having symptoms when they mistakenly thought they had been exposed to carbon monoxide.[6]

In 2008 in Tanzania, about 20 female school pupils began to faint in a schoolroom, collapsing to the floor and losing consciousness, while others after witnessing this sobbed, yelled and ran around the school. A local education officer was quoted in news reports saying that such events are "very common here".[2]

See also

References

  1. ^ Bartholomew, Robert E.; Wessely, Simon (2002). "Protean nature of mass sociogenic illness: From possessed nuns to chemical and biological terrorism fears". British Journal of Psychiatry (Royal College of Psychiatrists) 180: 300-306. http://bjp.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/full/180/4/300. "Mass sociogenic illness mirrors prominent social concerns, changing in relation to context and circumstance. Prior to 1900, reports are dominated by episodes of motor symptoms typified by dissociation, histrionics and psychomotor agitation incubated in an environment of preexisting tension. Twentieth-century reports feature anxiety symptoms that are triggered by sudden exposure to an anxiety-generating agent, most commonly an innocuous odour or food poisoning rumours. From the early 1980s to the present there has been an increasing presence of chemical and biological terrorism themes, climaxing in a sudden shift since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA.".  
  2. ^ a b Waller, John (18 September 2008). "Falling down". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/sep/18/psychology. "The recent outbreak of fainting in a school in Tanzania bears all the hallmarks of mass hysteria, says John Waller. But what causes it and why is it still happening around the world today?"  
  3. ^ a b Mass Delusions and Hysterias / Highlights from the Past Millennium (Skeptical Inquirer May 2000)
  4. ^ Doubts raised over Melbourne airport scare. 27/04/2005. ABC News Online
  5. ^ ACSH > Health Issues >
  6. ^ Perfume sets off events in Fort Worth that put 34 in hospitals, Star-Telegram, July 29, 2009

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