Human psychology is extremely complex. Having said that, we cannot deny that even animals have complex psychology but, humans are unique because they are the ones that have been, through history and time, vulnerable to mass hysteria. Well, let us begin by defining mass hysteria.
So, what is mass hysteria?
It is a condition or rather, better put, a situation where masses of people suddenly show weird psychological and physical symptoms. Interestingly, the condition begins with a few and then spreads rapidly to capture a large mass of people, often engulfing entire cities and sometimes whole country!
Some of the psychological and physical symptoms of mass hysteria include muscle weakness, dizziness, fits, fainting and uncontrolled laughter. These are just a few. There may be other symptoms as well.
Interesting, mass hysteria is not demographically restricted. Such situations have been reported globally and yes, throughout history.
So, what are the possible explanations of mass hysteria?
Several explanations have been attempted throughout history. Ancient scientists to modern day experts have all been trying hard to explain the root cause of mass hysteria. Let us take a look at each of these plausible explanations.
Ancient Greeks and Egyptians on mass hysteria:
‘Hystera’ – a Greek word for ‘uterus’ is the source for the word hysteria. The term was coined by Hippocrates – a famous physician from ancient Greece. However, the Greeks were not the first ones to associate mass hysteria with uterus. The crown for this goes to the ancient Egyptians in times as far back as 1900 BCE. In Kahun Papyrus, it is stated that the uterus in female body keeps moving from one place to another inside the body, causing the situation. Today we reject this proposal but it was once very widely accepted.
Middle Ages on mass hysteria:
Actually, uterus was clearly rejected during the Middle Ages itself. Instead, many started blaming witchcraft. Some blamed the situation on insanity while some others said, it was all about demonic possession.
Modern scientists on mass hysteria:
Modern men and women discard the idea of demons and witches or even wandering wombs being the cause of mass hysteria but unfortunately, even modern science has failed to provide immunity against this situation. The most recent case of mass hysteria on records dates back to 2012. The episode happened in Sri Lanka where 1900 children from 15 different schools in the nation suddenly succumbed to coughing, vertigo and skin rashes. Weirdly enough, they didn’t show any physical symptoms that could lead to such a condition. Scientists today blame mass hysteria on multiple factors like extreme stress, action reinforcement by authorities, religious beliefs, fear, cultural pressure, extraordinary excitement, rumor, social anxiety etc. Everyone agrees that political, religious and social conditions change over the course of history but what barely changes is human psychology that, even under new set of conditions, react nearly the same way our forefathers did. So, mass hysteria has no stopping. Over years to follow, we will encounter many more cases of mass hysteria.