Date: Sun Apr 03 1994 19:10:00
From: Ed Hackett
Subj: Mass hysteria
Some more information on "Mass Hysteria" follows.
Thanks to Robert Sheaffer - Scepticus Maximus - firstname.lastname@example.org
Past Chairman, The Bay Area Skeptics
I find these experiences analogous to many UFO and abduction scenarios.
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From "The West Bank Collective Hysteria Episode" by James R. Stewart,
_The Skeptical Inquirer_, Vol. 15 Nr. 2, p. 153 (Winter, 1991).
" Episodes of mass hysteria have captivated researchers for years,
but have thus far eluded the efforts of social scientists to provide
a comprehensive, systematic explanation of the causes and processes
involved. Mass hysteria typically involves the "contagious" spread
of physical symptoms (such as fainting, convulsions, nausea, and
headaches) along with the adoption of a belief system that attributes
causation to a toxic agent (such as insects or gases). Although the
victims are firmly convinced that their illness is "real," extensive
medical and environmental studies fail to identify a chemical or
biological cause for the symptoms. With no evidence to support the
"real illness" explanation, the authorities typically label the
episode as an example of mass hysteria and the whole thing is
quietly forgotten. The mass hysteria explanation, however, is usually
met with opposition from members of the afflicted group, who remain
convinced of the legitimacy of their illness....
" On March 21, 1983, scores of schoolgirls in the village of
Arrabah on the Israeli-occupied West Bank were stricken with a
mysterious illness. The symptoms included nausea, headache,
dizziness, and fainting spells... During this episode more than
60 girls were hospitalized with severe symptoms. Those with milder
symptoms were treated by local physicians. Medical personnel
conducted a barrage of screening tests on the hospitalized victims,
but they were unable to offer conclusive results regarding a cause
of complaints. Public health personnel conducted a comprehensive
investigation of the environment in and around the school. These
studies also yielded negative results....
" A new outbreak flared up very quickly when 300 schoolgirls
were stricken in the neighboring community of Jenin on March 26...
The vast majority again were schoolgirls; but a significant number
of adult females also developed symptoms, and some of the adult
males who helped transport the afflicted children to hospitals as
well as four soldiers of the Israeli Defense Force also came down
with symptoms.... Angry mobs of Arab demonstrators protested the
From _The Natural History of Nonsense_ by Bergen Evans
(New York: Vintage Books, 1946, 1958. p. 98)
" In the summer of 1943 absenteeism among women war workers
reached such proportions that sabotage was suspected and agents
of the FBI were called in to investigate. Their findings, confirmed
by other government and private agencies, was that women were
being driven from the lathes and benches by strange sexual fears.
Some feared that riveting caused cancer of the breast. A wholly
new and fictitious female disorder - "riveter's ovaries" - had
been invented. And scores of women engaged in filling fire-
extinguishers for airplanes had quit in panic when it was rumored
that the material they were handling, carbon tetrachloride, caused
pregnancy." (References: _The Chicago Sun_, Sept. 2, 1943; _Time_,
July 17, 1944, p. 60).
[Note the similarity between these WWII episodes, and contemporary
hysteria over supposed "environmental illness" and "environmental
medicine." - RS].
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From _Rumor, Fear and the Madness of Crowds_ by J. P. Chaplin
(New York: Ballantine Books, 1959. Chapter 7.)
The Mad Gasser of Mattoon [Illinois; Sept. 1944]
"...The people of Mattoon were locked in deadly combat with a phantom
who struck in the night spraying poisonous gas into his victims'
bedrooms and then vanished into the darkness leaving them
paralyzed, nasuseated, and suffering from swollen, bleeding
lips. So elusive was the ghostly anesthetist that would-be pursuers
caught only glimpses of a "tall, thin man wearing a black skull cap"
disappearing into the night. During a two-week reign of terror,
the phantom claimed over thirty victims while the local police
augmented by citizen volunteers and six squads of state troopers
armed with riot guns stood by helplessly.....
[Descriptions of the victims' accounts]
"...As to the gasser's motive, [Police] Chief Cole now entertained
two alternative hypotheses. One possibility was that the phantom
was a scientist gone berserk who manufactured gases in a basement
laboratory and sprayed them through his victims' windows with
some kind of high pressure gun. On the other hand there was a
chance that he was a sex fiend attempting to overcome women in
a novel manner for his own dark purposes. Some credence was lent
to the latter viewpoint by the fact that women in their bedrooms
had been his chief targets thus far.
" Indeed, this case must interest any student of mass psychology
or connisseur of human credulity, for it probably represents
one of the purest outbreaks of mass hysteria on record.
In the first place, there was absolutely no basis in reality
for the attacks. Secondly, the victims' symptoms (choking, swelling
of mucous membranes and partial paralysis), are the classic
symptoms of hysteria first observed over a generation ago by
Janet, the famous French neurologist. Moreover, in keeping with
hysterical phenomena in general, they were chiefly induced by
verbal suggestion, just as similar manifestations can be
produced in hypnotic subjects by means of the same technique."
[As occurs today to produce "memories" of supposed UFO
abductions, Satanic "ritual abuse", or "repressed" sexual
abuse. - RS]