What is Mass Hysteria?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 August 2019
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Mass hysteria is a phenomenon in which a group of people simultaneously exhibit similar hysterical symptoms. Technically, it involves physical effects, such as headache, nausea, dizziness, or a trance-like state or seizure-like movements. However, the term is also commonly used to refer to any mass delusion, in which a group of people become governed by irrational beliefs or moral panic.

Many cases of mass hysteria are controversial, as the supposed sufferers and even some observers feel that the term does not fully explain the phenomenon; for example, in the case of an alleged religious miracle or demonic possession affecting a large group of people. In addition, many people are reluctant to believe that intense physical symptoms they experienced were "all in their head."

This phenomenon is most common in small, close-knit communities, particularly if they are isolated. Enclosed areas such as schools, factories, and hospitals are typical settings. There are two main types of mass hysteria: anxiety hysteria and motor hysteria.

Anxiety hysteria is shorter in duration, typically lasting a day. Symptoms may include nausea, light-headedness, headache, dizziness, and physical weakness. Often, this type of mass hysteria begins with the complaint of a single member of the group of something like an odd smell in the room. Others pick up on a perceived threat and begin to exhibit psychosomatic symptoms.


Motor hysteria is characterized by nervous twitching or spasms, trance-like states, and histrionic outbursts. It is slower to manifest than anxiety hysteria, building gradually over a few days or weeks, but can take weeks or months to subside. Motor hysteria commonly has a more severe and longstanding cause than anxiety hysteria as well; for example, brutal living conditions or excessive discipline.

Mass hysteria has been documented since ancient times, though it was not understood until recently as a sociopsychological phenomenon rather than a supernatural one. Throughout history, it has frequently been the cause of moral panics that resulted in widespread rioting and even torture and executions, as in the case of witch hunts and trials. Even though the phenomenon is better understood today, it remains mysterious and disturbing, and those who have been subject to mass hysteria do not always find the modern psychological explanation sufficient.


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Post 5

Latte31-I try to have hand sanitizer in my car or sanitizing wipes for my kids. It is just a habit know and I did hear that more and more people are doing this and the incidents of people getting sick have been cut down.

I also make sure that my kids get a flu mist every year and it does cut down on the incidents of the flu. I think that if your child does not have allergies it may be something to discuss with their doctor.

Post 4

Bhutan- The only thing that I try to tell my kids to avoid is the water fountain. The water fountain is said to be harboring many diseases and this is how kids can get sick.

I simply pack a water bottle and tell them that is what they should use when they get thirsty. I saw a documentary about germs and I am just more careful.

You really have to wash your hands when you touch the ATM for example, because so many people touch those machines daily and not all of these people washes their hands before they use the ATM.

Post 3

Sunny27-If you really think about it, so few people were actually affected by the disease that it makes you wonder why there was so much mass hysteria.

I know that unfortunately some of these victims lost their lives but if you think about it more people die from the simple flu every year than this disease.

When you think logically you realize that you just have to maintain good hygiene and wash your hands several times a day. This will reduce the likelihood if developing any disease.

Post 2

Suntan12-I remember that case, I think that they went on the Sally Jesse Raphael show.

It was a heartbreaking story because the children could not understand why they were rejected. I know that there was swine flu mass hysteria in which people were afraid to go anywhere because they thought that they were going to contract this disease.

There were so many mass hysteria articles written about this disease that it really shook a lot of people up.

I remember when Vice President Joe Biden was highly criticized because he stated something to the effect that we should not fly because the spread of germs in an airplane is magnified and made worse.

This fueled the fire that was already set by the swine flu hysteria and hurt the already struggling airline industry that did not need this type of publicity.

Post 1

There are many examples of mass hysteria in history. For example, in the early 80’s when we uncovered the disease AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome many people were afraid to be in the same room with some afflicted with this HIV virus.

There was a sad mass hysteria example regarding a family in southwest Florida, I believe it was Arcadia to be exact, that had a few children afflicted with HIV.

The children obtained this deadly disease through a contaminated blood transfusion and the poor kids were ostracized when the community found out that they contracted this disease.

The disease could only be contracted through bodily fluids or an exchange of blood. Usually the transmission came as a result of a blood transfusion that was contaminated, IV drug use, or sexual intercourse.

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