The Psychology Of: Dancing Plagues & Mass Hysteria

As always the MindHacks delivers high quality articles that are applicable to finance. In their latest post the blog mentions two articles on the psychology of Mass Hysteria.The first article outlines the psychology of the dancing plauges of medieval times. These dancing plagues  involved “hundreds of people [who] were seized by an agonizing compulsion to dance. Scarcely pausing to rest or eat, they danced for hours or even days in succession.” The second article is an academic paper analyzing the effects of mass sociogenic illness.

Article 1. Dancing plagues and mass hysteria  how distress and pious fear have led to bizarre outbreaks across the ages  – Via The Psychologist Org.UK (Click Here To Read Article 1)

The year was 1374. In dozens of medieval towns scattered along the valley of the River Rhine hundreds of people were seized by an agonising compulsion to dance. Scarcely pausing to rest or eat, they danced for hours or even days in succession. They were victims of one of the strangest afflictions in Western history. Within weeks the mania had engulfed large areas of north-eastern France and the Netherlands, and only after several months did the epidemic subside. In the following century there were only a few isolated outbreaks of compulsive dancing. Then it reappeared, explosively, in the city of Strasbourg in 1518. Chronicles indicate that it then consumed about 400 men, women and children, causing dozens of deaths (Waller, 2008).

These events may sound wildly improbable, but there is clear documentary evidence that they did in fact happen. The dancing plagues were independently described by scores of physicians, chroniclers, monks and priests, and for the 1518 outbreak we can even read the panicky municipal orders written by the Strasbourg authorities at the time of the epidemic (Midelfort, 1999; Waller, 2008). Similarly, trial documents and the archives of the inquisition provide copious, in-depth accounts of nuns doing and saying the strangest of things (Sluhovsky, 2002).

Article 2. Protean nature of mass sociogenic illness: From possessed nuns to chemical and biological terrorism fears – Via bjp.rcpsych.org – (Click Here To Read Article 2)

Episodes of mass sociogenic illness are becoming increasingly recognised as a significant health and social problem that is more common than is presently reported.To provide historical continuity with contemporary episodes of mass sociogenic illness in order to gain a broader transcultural and trans historical understanding of this complex, protean phenomenon.Mass sociogenic illness mirrors prominent social concerns, changing in relation to context and circumstance. Prior to 1900, reports are dominated by episodes of motor symptoms typified by dissociation, histrionics and psychomotor agitation incubated in an environment of preexisting tension. Twentieth-century reports feature anxiety symptoms that are triggered by sudden exposure to an anxiety-generating agent, most commonly an innocuous odour or food poisoning rumours. From the early 1980s to the present there has been an increasing presence of chemical and biological terrorism themes, climaxing in a sudden shift since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA. A broad understanding of the history of mass sociogenic illness and a knowledge of episode characteristics are useful in the more rapid recognition and treatment of outbreaks.

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24. June 2009 by Miguel Barbosa
Categories: Curated Readings, Psychology & Sociology | Leave a comment

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