From people dancing in the square until passing out to the consequences of someone yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, mass hysteria is a very peculiar phenomenon.
It seems like no one is immune to the possibility of experiencing it or knowing how it will manifest.
Historically speaking, occurrences of mass hysteria aren’t all that rare or all that new either.
Now, although this may sound a bit unnerving at first, keep reading to find out the most likely reasons behind this phenomenon and some of the more interesting examples.
Here we explain what mass hysteria really is and how it has manifested through the years.
How Do We Define It
Mass hysteria is a type of psychogenic illness that can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or physique.
The term “psychogenic” means it starts in the mind and has an effect on the body instead of the other way around, which is why everyone can experience it.
What’s important about mass hysteria is that the symptoms themselves are just as real as in other situations, even though they do not have a physical explanation.
For the people experiencing it, the events are just as tangible as in all other situations.
Because of this and because it can have multiple symptoms with different durations, it is very difficult to characterize this phenomenon with certainty.
A professor from King’s College, however, recently wrote an article giving mass hysteria five basic principles or conditions the event in question should meet in order to be defined as an instance of mass hysteria.
These are as follows
People have to act in a manner they wouldn’t normally
The reason behind the symptoms themselves should not be that of physical disease
The effects of mass hysteria are not an orchestrated response from a third party
The offset event is not an organized one, such as riots
And finally, the link between the people should not be coincidental
Should an event meet all of these conditions, it is most likely mass hysteria.
The rules themselves might seem a bit broad, but they are written in a way so as to not discriminate against anyone's experience, seeing as we know so little about this phenomenon.
What Are Some Of The Occurrences?
We can find many interesting instances of mass hysteria throughout history.
In fact, the first documented cases were as early as the 14th century, and in the last century alone, there have been more than 70 outbreaks.
If we are searching for the first instances of mass hysteria, however, we should likely start with the “dancing plagues” in Europe during the middle ages.
These instances were basically of groups of people who started dancing and could not stop.
You can find descriptions of these outbursts in many different documents from different authors.
To summarize them, however, the basic notion is that people looked as if they were in some sort of trance, unable to stop dancing until they passed out or died.
These conditions lasted for well over a month, and the participants were more than 400 at a time.
So far, we have found no explanation as to why this happened.
More recently, there are still a lot of cases showing mass hysteria.
In the 60s, for example, the kids in one school could not stop laughing, up until the moment when the school had to close down.
When the children were sent home, the laughter spread to their families, and almost the entire city started laughing uncontrollably for around a month.
However, mass hysteria is often not with something as light-hearted as dances and laughter.
Rashes, dizziness, and headaches have also been symptoms of mass hysteria on multiple occasions.
Most recently, however, the way mass hysteria was seen was as the symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome.
Multiple girls started having uncontrollable limb movements and verbal outbreaks with seemingly no explanation.
Things to Remember
So what is this peculiar phenomenon?
Well, it appears that the symptoms in which it manifests are very different and can have different intensities and durations.
People from everywhere and all age groups can be affected as long as they have something in common.
All of this makes the characterization of this occurrence very difficult.
However, scientists have recently formulated some baselines for what falls under mass hysteria and keep working towards understanding it better.