Collective Madness Or Mass Psychogenic Illness: This Is How It Works

The term 鈥渃ollective madness鈥 has been used to talk about very diverse phenomena, from the dance epidemics that took place in Europe in the Middle Ages to the rise of Hitler and Nazism, or even the communist revolutions and the independence movement. Catalan.

In this article we will try analyze the concept of collective madness or mass psychogenic illness leaving aside the political and ideological uses that have been given to the term. However, and as we will see below, it is difficult to delimit the degree of solidity and explanatory potential of this concept due to factors of a diverse nature.

What is collective madness?

The concepts 鈥渃ollective madness鈥 and 鈥渕ass psychogenic illness鈥 They are used to refer to unusual phenomena consisting of the spread of disorders of psychological origin in multiple members of human communities. More generally, there has also been talk of depression or anxiety disorders of collective scope.

However, this term is normally used to refer to disturbances characterized by a delirious tone ; Sometimes the instrumental use of the concept of collective madness is also evident in order to discredit certain sets of ideas and personal values, such as religions and political ideologies.

The difference between this concept and that of mass hysteria is ambiguous, judging by the available literature. This last term is used in a particular way to talk about collective delusions related to threats, whether real or not; However, the phenomena of collective madness that we will describe have been described as collective hysteria by some authors.

You may be interested:  What Are Behavioral Experiments in Therapy?

Currently, the degree of agreement in the scientific community regarding these concepts is very low. To the difficulties inherent in the analysis of collective phenomena blurring joins in the definition of collective madness and the contamination of the concept due to its indiscriminate use by experts and laymen.

Examples of this phenomenon

Throughout history, various events have been recorded that have been related to the idea of 鈥嬧媍ollective madness. The usual symptoms of these disorders are typically psychosomatic such as headaches, feelings of dizziness, weakness and fatigue, cough, nausea, discomfort in the abdomen and throat or breathing difficulties.

In a very general way, and taking into account the limitations that we have mentioned, we can affirm that the phenomena that are included in the category of collective madness have in common the lack of organic basis for alterations the transitory nature of the signs and symptoms, the presence of intense anxiety and the appearance in isolated human groups.

1. The dance epidemics

During the Early Middle Ages, between the 14th and 17th centuries, a series of very striking episodes of collective madness occurred in Europe. These phenomena are spoken of as 鈥渄ance epidemics鈥 because the affected people danced in groups in an uncontrolled manner until losing consciousness due to fatigue.

Dance epidemics generally occurred during periods of economic crisis, and in some cases they lasted several months. Apparently these events were especially common in groups of nuns, and the dance movements frequently involved obscene gestures.

2. Episodes in factories

Since the Industrial Revolution, alleged outbreaks of collective madness in factories We find references to these phenomena in many different places, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, Germany, France and Italy. The specificity of the context is striking, although the episodes vary greatly between them.

You may be interested:  How to Face the Process of Psychological Grief Due to Coronavirus?

Thus, for example, in the 1970s collective phenomena characterized by aggression and experiences of spirit possession occurred in several factories in Singapore; The 鈥淛une Bug鈥 episode is also well known, which took place in the United States, it was clearly associated with psychosocial stress and included physical signs of anxiety.

3. The Tanganyika laughter epidemic

In 1962, a phenomenon of collective madness took place in the region of Lake Tanganyika, in Central Africa. At a school, three girls began to laugh uncontrollably ; The episode affected 95 of the 159 students at the center. Very similar events followed at other schools; some adults also showed the signs.

4. Grisi siknis

Grisis siknis is a culture-bound syndrome specific to the Miskito society, which resides primarily in Honduras and Nicaragua. These are outbreaks that mainly affect adolescent women; these refer experiences of possession by spirits or demons and they manifest violent behaviors and symptoms such as fear, anger and dizziness.

This type of collective madness has gained some fame in recent years due to the outbreaks that occurred after Hurricane Felix, especially in Nicaragua. These episodes lasted relatively long and affected a large number of young women, being transmitted from one to another by suggestion.