In sociology and psychology, mass hysteria (also known as collective hysteria, group hysteria, or collective obsessional behavior) is a phenomenon that transmits collective illusions of threats, whether real or imaginary, through a population in society as a result of rumors and fear (memory acknowledgment).
A common type of mass hysteria occurs when a group of people believe they are suffering from a similar disease or ailment, sometimes referred to as mass psychogenic illness or epidemic hysteria.
- 1 Notable cases
- 1.1 Cat nuns (France, Middle Ages)
- 1.2 Europe (15th century)
- 1.3 Dancing Plague of 1518
- 1.4 Irish Fright of 1688
- 1.5 Salem witch trials (1692–93)
- 1.6 Würzburg (1749)
- 1.7 Basel and Gross-tinz "Writing Tremor Epidemic" (1892,1904)
- 1.8 Montreal (1894)
- 1.9 Meissen "Trembling Disease" (1905-6)
- 1.10 Halifax Slasher (1938)
- 1.11 Bellevue, Louisiana (1939)
- 1.12 Tanganyika laughter epidemic (1962)
- 1.13 June Bug Epidemic (1962)
- 1.14 Welsh, Louisiana (1962)
- 1.15 Blackburn, England (1965)
- 1.16 London (early 1970s)
- 1.17 Mount Pleasant, Mississippi (1976)
- 1.18 Malaysia (1970s–1980s)
- 1.19 Hollinwell Incident (1980)
- 1.20 West Bank fainting epidemic (1983)
- 1.21 San Diego (1988)
- 1.22 Kosovo (1990)
- 1.23 Monkey-man of Delhi (2001)
- 1.24 North Carolina (2002)
- 1.25 "Strawberries With Sugar virus" (2006)
- 1.26 Mexico City (2007)
- 1.27 Vinton, Virginia (2007)
- 1.28 Afghanistan (2009–)
- 1.29 Brunei (2010)
- 1.30 LeRoy, New York (2011–12)
- 1.31 Sri Lanka (2012)
- 1.32 Charlie Charlie Panic (2015)
- 1.33 Clown Sightings (2016)
- 2 See also
- 3 References
- 4 Further reading
- 5 External links
Cat nuns (France, Middle Ages)
A nun of a French convent inexplicably began to meow like a cat, shortly leading to the other nuns in the convent also meowing. Eventually all the nuns would meow together for a certain period every day, leaving the surrounding community astonished. This did not stop until the police threatened to whip the nuns.
Europe (15th century)
A nun in a German convent began to bite her companions, and the behavior spread through other convents in Germany, into Holland and as far as Italy.
Dancing Plague of 1518
The Dancing Plague of 1518 was a case of dancing mania that occurred in Strasbourg, Alsace (then part of the Holy Roman Empire) in July 1518. Numerous people took to dancing for days without rest, and, over the period of about one month, some of the people died from heart attack, stroke, or exhaustion.
Irish Fright of 1688
The Irish Fright took place in England and parts of Wales in December 1688 during the Glorious Revolution. False reports that Irish soldiers were burning and massacring English towns prompted a mass panic in at least nineteen counties, with thousands of people arming themselves and preparing to resist non-existent groups of marauding Irishmen.
Salem witch trials (1692–93)
Adolescent girls Abigail Williams, Betty Parris, Ann Putnam, Jr., and Elizabeth Hubbard began to have fits that were described by a minister as "beyond the power of Epileptic Fits or natural disease to effect." The events resulted in the Salem witch trials, a series of hearings leading to the executions of 20 citizens and the deaths of five citizens of Salem Village, Massachusetts (present day Danvers, Massachusetts) and nearby towns accused of witchcraft. The episode is one of America's most notorious cases of mass hysteria, and has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations and lapses in due process.
An outbreak of screaming, squirming, and trance in a nunnery led to the execution of a suspected witch.
Basel and Gross-tinz "Writing Tremor Epidemic" (1892,1904)
The right hand of a ten-year-old girl in Gross-tinz began trembling, which developed into full-body seizures that spread to nineteen other students.
That same year, a similar epidemic affected 20 in Basel, Switzerland. Twelve years later, the Basel school experienced another outbreak that affected 27 students. Legend of the first outbreak was said to have played a role.
Sixty students at a ladies' seminary suffered an outbreak of fits and seizures, some for as long as 2 months.
Meissen "Trembling Disease" (1905-6)
An estimated 237 children were afflicted between October 1905 and May 1906.
Halifax Slasher (1938)
The Halifax Slasher was the name given to a supposed attacker of residents, mostly women, of the town of Halifax, England in November 1938. The week-long scare began after two women claimed to have been attacked by a mysterious man with a mallet and "bright buckles" on his shoes. Further reports of attacks by a man wielding a knife or a razor followed. The situation became so serious that Scotland Yard was called in to assist the Halifax police.
On November 29 one of the alleged victims admitted that he had inflicted the damage upon himself for attention. Others soon had similar admissions, and the Yard investigation concluded that none of the attacks had been real. Five local people were subsequently charged with public mischief offenses, and four were sent to prison.
Bellevue, Louisiana (1939)
A girl developed a leg twitch at the annual homecoming high school dance. Attacks worsened and spread to friends over the next several weeks.
Tanganyika laughter epidemic (1962)
The Tanganyika laughter epidemic began on January 30, 1962, at a mission-run boarding school for girls in Kashasha, Tanzania. The laughter started with three girls and spread haphazardly throughout the school, affecting 95 of the 159 pupils, aged 12–18. Symptoms lasted from a few hours to 16 days in those affected. The teaching staff were not affected but reported that students were unable to concentrate on their lessons. The school was forced to close down on March 18, 1962.
After the school was closed and the students were sent home, the epidemic spread to Nshamba, a village that was home to several of the girls. In April and May, 217 people had laughing attacks in the village, most of them school children and young adults. The Kashasha school was reopened on May 21, only to be closed again at the end of June. In June, the laughing epidemic spread to Ramashenye girls’ middle school, near Bukoba, affecting 48 girls. Another outbreak occurred in Kanyangereka and two nearby boys schools were closed.
June Bug Epidemic (1962)
A well-known example of hysterical contagion affecting sixty-two employees at a US textile factory.
Welsh, Louisiana (1962)
With students' sexual activity under close scrutiny by school officials, and following rumors of mandatory pregnancy tests, twenty-one girls and one boy in grades six to eleven were affected by seizures and other symptoms over six months.
Blackburn, England (1965)
In October 1965 at a girls' school in Blackburn, several girls complained of dizziness. Some fainted. Within a couple of hours, 85 girls from the school were rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital after fainting. Symptoms included swooning, moaning, chattering of teeth, hyperpnea, and tetany.
A medical analysis of the event about one year later found that outbreaks began among the 14-year-olds, but that the heaviest incidence moved to the youngest age groups. There was no evidence of pollution of food or air. The younger girls proved more susceptible, but disturbance was more severe and lasted longer in the older girls. Using the Eysenck Personality Inventory, those affected had higher scores for extroversion and neuroticism. It was considered that the epidemic was hysterical, that a previous polio epidemic had rendered the population emotionally vulnerable, and that a three-hour parade, producing 20 faints on the day before the first outbreak, had been the specific trigger.
London (early 1970s)
Eight girls and a teacher began to have falling and fainting spells. The class was sent home early for spring break, and a pregnancy scare followed years later when one of the victims had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital, claiming to be pregnant. This then became the belief of several other patients, resulting in a domino-effect of pseudocyesis.
Mount Pleasant, Mississippi (1976)
School officials suspected drug use after fifteen students fell to the ground writhing, but no drugs were found and hysteria is assumed to be culprit. At one point, one third of school's 900 students stayed home for fear of being "hexed".
Mass hysteria occurred in Malaysia from the 1970s to the 1980s. It affected school-age girls and young women working in factories. The locals have explained this outbreak as "spirits" having possessed the girls and young women.
Hollinwell Incident (1980)
Around 300 people, mostly children, but including adults and babies, suddenly suffered fainting attacks, nausea and other symptoms. The Hollinwell incident remains one of the prime examples of mass hysteria.
West Bank fainting epidemic (1983)
The 1983 West Bank fainting epidemic was a series of incidents in March 1983 in which 943 Palestinian teenage girls, mostly schoolgirls, and a small number of IDF women soldiers fainted or complained of feeling nauseous in the West Bank. Israel was accused of using chemical warfare to sterilize West Bank women while IDF sources speculated that a toxic substance had been employed by Palestinian militants to stir up unrest, but investigators concluded that even if some environmental irritant had originally been present, the wave of complaints was ultimately a product of mass hysteria. This conclusion was supported by a Palestinian health official, who said that while 20% of the early cases may have been caused by the inhalation of some kind of gas, the remaining 80% were psychosomatic.
San Diego (1988)
The US Navy evacuated 600 men from barracks; 119 were sent to San Diego hospitals with complaints of breathing difficulty. No evidence of toxins, food poisoning, or any other cause was found.
Zoran Radovanović, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine in Kuwait argues in an article for the European Journal of Epidemiology that the "Kosovo Student Poisoning" that affected at least four thousand, mostly ethnic Albanians, was a product of mass hysteria.
Monkey-man of Delhi (2001)
North Carolina (2002)
Ten girls developed seizures and other symptoms at a rural high school in North Carolina. Symptoms persisted for five months across various grade levels. Incidents tended to happen outside of class, with half of all incidents estimated to have occurred around lunch hour. Half of the affected were cheerleaders or former cheerleaders.
"Strawberries With Sugar virus" (2006)
In May 2006, an outbreak of the so-dubbed Morangos com Açúcar Virus (Strawberries With Sugar virus) was reported in Portuguese schools, named after the popular teen girl's show Morangos com Açúcar (Strawberries With Sugar). 300 or more students at 14 schools reported similar symptoms to those experienced by the characters in a then recent episode where a life-threatening virus affected the school depicted in the show. Symptoms included rashes, difficulty breathing, and dizziness. The belief that there was a medical outbreak forced some schools to temporarily close. The Portuguese National Institute for Medical Emergency eventually dismissed the illness as mass hysteria.
Mexico City (2007)
In 2007 near Chalco, a working-class suburb of Mexico City, mass hysteria resulted in a massive outbreak of unusual symptoms suffered by adolescent female students (600) at Children's Village School, a Catholic boarding-school. The afflicted students had difficulty walking and were feverish and nauseated.
Vinton, Virginia (2007)
An outbreak of twitching, headaches and dizziness affected at least nine girls and one teacher at William Byrd High School. The episode lasted for months amid other local public health scares. 
Starting around 2009, a spate of apparent poisonings at girls' schools across Afghanistan began to be reported, with symptoms including dizziness, fainting, and vomiting. The United Nations, World Health Organization and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force carried out investigations of the incidents over multiple years, but never found any evidence of toxins or poisoning in the hundreds of blood, urine, and water samples they tested. The conclusion of the investigators was that the girls were suffering from mass psychogenic illness. Despite these findings, Afghan officials often blame the incidents on the Taliban, accusing them of contaminating the school's water supply or using poison gas.
In April and May 2010, incidents of mass hysteria occurred at two all-girls secondary schools in Brunei. The most recent notable event happened on the 24th of April 2014 in a public secondary school. The phenomenon caused a wave of panic among many parents, educators, and members of the community. Some of the students affected by the phenomenon claimed to have been possessed by spirits, or jinn, displaying histrionic symptoms such as screaming, shaking, fainting, and crying.
LeRoy, New York (2011–12)
In late 2011, 12 high school girls developed Tourette-like symptoms. Their school was tested for toxins, and all other factors for their symptoms were ruled out. The case, and some of the girls and their parents, gained national media attention. In January 2012, several more students and a 36-year-old adult female came forward with similar symptoms. They were all diagnosed with conversion disorder.
Sri Lanka (2012)
From November 15–20, 2012, incidents of mass hysteria occurred at 15 schools in Sri Lanka. More than 1,900 school children of 15 schools in Sri Lanka and five teachers were treated for a range of symptoms that included skin rashes, vomiting, vertigo, and cough due to allergic reactions believed to be mass hysteria. It originated at the Jinaraja Balika Vidyala in Gampola, Central Province on November 15, 2012 when 1,100 students were admitted to hospital with a range of symptoms that included skin rashes, vomiting, vertigo and coughing. Later, authorities had to close down the school for 3 days. After that on November 16-19 there were more reports of students from other parts of the country showing similar symptoms.[unreliable source?]
Charlie Charlie Panic (2015)
Clown Sightings (2016)
Sightings of people in evil clown costumes in the United States, Canada, and 18 other countries were dismissed as a case of mass hysteria, stating that a fear of clowns (which is common in children and adults) may be an underlying cause. Vox likewise claimed that "The Great Clown Panic of 2016 has been perpetuated by pretty much everyone except actual clowns."
- Body-centred countertransference
- Folie à deux (from the French for "a madness shared by two")
- Psychochemical weaponry
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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?
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