Research, Technology

Crowd psychology: what is mass hysteria

Man is a social animal.By uniting and working together, we can move mountains. And also to destroy everything around, so that such sentiments and trends have long been of interest to sociologists. History shows that against the background of epidemics, conflicts and social upheavals, people seem to go crazy. Of particular interest to scientists is the so-called psychology of the crowd - gathering in large groups, people can behave like a single organism. Surprisingly, the crowd is just as psychologically specific as an individual person, and mass epidemics of hysteria were observed back in the Middle Ages. Ultimately, human history is full of tragedies, illnesses, wars and the accompanying mass psychoses that occur in stressful situations. And given the speed of information dissemination in the digital age, all high-profile events affect society with multiple force, and mass hysteria can catch you anywhere - on the street, indoors and, of course, on social networks.

Fears speak of an aggravation in the social sphere and can lead to mass hysteria

At the core mass psychosis lies suggestibility. The result is obsession and lack of rational judgment.


  • 1 Human social behavior
  • 2 Why are we scared?
  • 3 What is collective panic?
  • 4 Mass psychosis and pandemic

Human social behavior

To understand such a complex phenomenon as a crowd, consider collective behavior. This term sociologists use to refer to a diverse set of behaviors in which a large number of people participate. But despite the efforts made, crowd behavior is not fully understood, and the Internet and social networks have made the task even more difficult.

Previously, psychologists and sociologists put forward manytheories that explain collective behavior, from the formation of small groups to the development of a common social identity in which people feel they belong to the majority.

Mass hysteria is based on imitation and suggestibility.

This accessory contributes to threepsychological transformations: group members perceive the world in terms of collective values ​​and belief systems; effectively coordinate their activities; and, therefore, get the opportunity to realize collective goals (if any). Researchers identify several varieties of collective behavior including actions during natural disasters, uprisings and panic.

By the way, today to explain human behaviorcan be done with a brain scan. Read about how imaging has shed light on medical conditions in the brain and helped identify depression and other psychiatric conditions here.

Why do we get scared?

Experts attribute the rumors and mass panic tofirmly rooted beliefs and ideas that are not always true. As a rule, rumors are information based on unreliable sources and which, nevertheless, are successfully transmitted from one person to another. Conspiracy theories, covid dissidence and pseudoscience are gaining more and more followers every year. In many ways, this state of affairs is determined by the alarming situation, social upheavals and uncertainty about the future.

According to the authors of a paper published inEncyclopedia of Forensic and Legal Medicine, during outbreaks of mass hysteria, people showed mainly motor impairment. Surprisingly, such cases were described back in the Middle Ages, during epidemics of infectious diseases. Thus, in some groups, people danced and convulsed until they fell exhausted to the ground.

In ancient times, such "epidemics" of mass psychosis could cover entire villages.

Natural disasters along with the plague pandemic,took place in closely related social groups, united by religious beliefs. These phenomena emphasized the mimic nature of many hysterical disorders, influencing social and cultural characteristics, the scientific work says.

In fact, mass hysteria can be attributed to a strongfear and anxiety because of the impending danger, which can easily turn out to be false or greatly exaggerated. However, episodes of mass hysteria are relatively rare. One oft-cited incident occurred on October 30, 1938, when actor/director Orson Welles aired a radio adaptation of H. G. Wells' book The War of the Worlds. In it, as the dear reader probably knows, it was about the invasion of the Martians on Earth. The radio show reported on the attack on New Jersey and New York, and thousands of listeners were convinced that the invasion was really happening.

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Since the radio play has happened over the decadesBefore the advent of the Internet, frightened citizens called the police and hospitals, as well as friends and family, to warn them of impending danger. The next day, newspaper headlines were full of stories of heart attacks, suicides, and other violent reactions to the takeover of the planet by bloodthirsty Martians. The researchers believe that panic is inextricably linked to mass hysteria and concerns about a perceived threat. Whether it's real or not.

What is collective panic?

So collective behavior and mass hysteriastudied for decades. According to the results of a review of scientific research on the topic, mass psychosis can be characterized as episodes of acute anxiety, occurring mainly in schoolchildren, as well as hysteria with motor changes. Such collective behavior can be observed practically in any age group.

In a 2021 paper on the impact of the pandemic oncollective behavior, the researchers paid special attention to information and the speed of its dissemination - negative news has a detrimental effect on public health, preceding mass hysteria.

Psychosis is the highest, catastrophic degree of disorganization of mental activity.

We argue that the media have an unfavorableimpact on the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The collective hysteria has contributed to the mistakes of politicians in the field of health and the spread of the coronavirus. Mass psychosis intensifies when negative information comes from authoritative sources and is highly politicized. Social media also contributes to public health and behavior - negative information is everywhere. We concluded that the negative long-term effects of mass hysteria are exacerbated by the size of the state, the study says.

Moreover, severe stress and anxiety contribute to the development (and intensification) of various addictions, including alcohol. As for world leaders, they made serious mistakes that could lead to economic recession and povertythat adversely affect health and longevity.

More on this topic: Consequences of COVID-19: depression, psychosis and PTSD

Mass psychosis and pandemic

One of the main findings of the study is that the political system has a significant impact on the spread of mass hysteriabased on economic principles.The more centralized and the more power the state has, the more likely and the spread of mass hysteria. Mass hysteria, unfortunately, can take over the government, causing serious damage to society.

The coronavirus pandemic is being replaced by mass psychosis

Thus, the coronavirus pandemic has disruptedfundamental human rights through movement restrictions, curfews and strict quarantines. From this point of view, quarantine is a political mistake caused by collective hysteria - the circle is closed. At the same time, it should be noted that mass insanity has not been studied well enough.

A number of psychologists believe that panic buying of food, medicines and household items is a manifestation of mass psychosis, the cause of which is anxiety and fear.

According to one of the authors of the scientific workRobert Bartholomew, in the 21st century mass psychosis epidemics are likely to flourish. This is facilitated by armed conflicts, climate change and even the development of technology. The level of aggression, distrust of government actions and environmental concerns increase the likelihood of outbreaks of mass insanity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all areas of human activity

Since the phenomenon of mass hysteria todaythe day is not well understood, it is probably possible to understand its causes by paying attention, among other things, to the behavior of followers of religious cults. Many of them (whether Scientologists or Pentecostals) fall into a trance during repetitive rituals - people sing, dance, laugh, scream and fall to the ground exhausted. One of the reasons for the total lack of will of the sectarians is the suppression of rational consciousness. However, this is a completely different story, although the similarities are certainly present.