Uses of the word have historically been so imprecise, and the term has gained such negative connotations — used to describe any violent outburst of emotion — that it was "retired" by the American Psychiatric Association in As a consequence of this, any claims that mass hysteria could be a phenomenon that applies most prominently to women becomes questionable, especially considering the heterogeneous nature of such events and how difficult it is to categorize them.
Though occurrences of mass hysteria have been documented throughout history, they do not seem to have become less common with the passage of time and the advent of technology that supports the rapid flux of information. A number of intriguing events involving collective experiences of psychological and physiological symptoms have been referred to as instances of mass hysteria over the past 50 years or so. And some of the most recent occurrences have even been tied to the perils of social media. In , in a village in Tanganyika — now Tanzania — a girl at a boarding school suddenly started laughing Her laughing fit quickly produced a "laughing epidemic" among her schoolmates, which became of such magnitude that the school had to be shut down.
Upon sending all the girls home, the epidemic spread to the wider community, and it only began to fade after 2 years from the start of the outbreak. Notoriously, in Singapore in , hundreds of men became convinced that eating pork meat taken from a series of vaccinated pigs would lead to penis shrinkage or disappearance, and potentially death. This "penis panic," or "koro," required a concerted effort from the country's government to educate the male population about their genital organs to convince them that their conviction was not, and could not, be true.
In autumn , children in elementary and middle schools across the United States experienced a strange symptom: their skin would break out in rashes, but only while they were in school.
At home, their symptoms would promptly disappear. In the media, this phenomenon was linked to the impact of the tragic events of September 11, and the children's symptoms were taken as a mass psychosomatic reaction to the feelings associated with trauma that permeated the U. More recently, in , teenagers in Portugal started to present to hospital with dizziness, rashes, and breathing difficulties.
Finally, the most fresh instance of alleged mass hysteria took place as recently as , when teenage girls from the small town of LeRoy, NY, started to exhibit symptoms similar to those seen in Tourette's syndrome — such as uncontrollable jerks of the limbs and verbal outbreaks — though the doctors were unable to find a clear cause for them. This epidemic started when a girl posted a video of herself on YouTube, in which she documented an episode of such symptoms. Until recently, this girl had shown no sign of Tourette's. The video went viral, and many more teenage girls started to display the same symptoms.
A teenage boy and a year-old woman were also "infected. When the woman explained that she started having these symptoms after she learned of the girl's story on Facebook, this led to speculation about social media's potential role in advancing mass hysteria in the present day. So, is mass hysteria an epidemic of the mind, leading to symptoms in the body, which is spread via social contact?
This question is still under debate, but if it is so, the advent of social media is a likely vehicle for the spread of such "viruses. In any case, instances of reported mass hysteria do highlight one consideration: that it is just as important to preserve our inner well-being as it is to look after our physical health.
And the messages we ingest — through what we read, watch, or hear — may affect our well-being in unsuspected ways. MNT is the registered trade mark of Healthline Media.
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How this works. What is mass hysteria, and how does it manifest? We investigate. Bioterrorism: Should we be worried?
Are women more likely to be affected by collective obsessional behavior? A 'laughing epidemic' that started in a school in 'eventually spread to the larger population. Nowadays, social media may contribute to the spread of collective obsessional behavior. Related coverage. Latest news Too much exercise may affect our ability to make decisions. A new study concludes that intensive exercise not only causes muscle fatigue but may also affect the brain and the ability to make good decisions. Green tea compound could help in the battle against super bugs.
As the antibiotic resistance crisis deepens, experts are looking for new angles. But with a few exceptions, it was Republicans who helped stall and kill the bill. Not all that long ago, the anti-vax movement was dominated by the granola-eating, pharma-distrusting left. Conservative opposition was centered among people who also tended to see water fluoridation as a communist plot. A good share of the opposition arises in parents who claim to have seen harm from vaccines in their kids. And like any pharmaceutical product, vaccines can, rarely, cause serious adverse events.
Over the years, they have investigated evidence of harm from pertussis and measles shots, and traces of mercury and aluminum in vaccines. But the anti-vaccine movement waxes and wanes on political currents that have little to do with the evidence.
Since Trump began his ascent in , the movement has been growing. Paranoia, mysticism and cultural pessimism still contribute to anti-vaccine thinking, but freedom from persecution is increasingly the banner raised in social media and public appearances. Vaccine resistance has swept into conservative areas of Texas, where parental refusal rates doubled over just a few years.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, rates of refusal increased somewhat in liberal Austin, but the biggest upticks occurred in places like suburban Dallas and Trump-loving West Texas. In Gaines County, midway between Odessa and Lubbock, the percentage of vaccine refuseniks went from 3 percent to 9 percent from to The late feminism opponent Phyllis Schlafly opposed vaccine mandates for years, but she was considered a right-wing gadfly for much of her career.
The party has moved toward her. In the pre-vaccine days, doctors recommended this practice because highly contagious chickenpox has fewer complications in the young, so it was actually safer to get it in childhood than later in life. But the chickenpox vaccine, licensed in , changed that. Science had moved on, but not Bevin. The current measles outbreak can in part be traced back to a Lancet article by the British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield, which linked measles vaccination to autism, setting off a wave of fear. The paper, since disproved and retracted, has become a classic of sorts — frequently employed in college statistics courses to demonstrate bad scientific practice.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Del Bigtree, a former TV journalist, teamed with Kennedy and Wakefield to make a tendentious anti-vaccine film. The three men often speak at rallies in state capitols where bills are under consideration, usually in the company of a few Republican state legislators. Skip to Main Content. Continue to article content.
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