The term “collective madness” has been used to refer to a wide variety of 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 massive psychogenic illness leaving aside the political and ideological uses that have been made. However, and as we will see later, it becomes difficult to delimit the degree of solidity and the explanatory potential of this concept due to factors of a diverse nature.
What is collective madness?
The concepts of “collective madness” and “massive psychogenic illness” they are used to designate unusual phenomena consisting of the spread of disorders of psychological origin in multiple members of human communities. More generally, we have also spoken of depressions or anxiety disorders of collective scope.
However, this term is commonly used to refer to alterations characterized by a delusional tone; the instrumental use of the concept of collective madness to discredit certain sets of personal ideas and values, such as religions and political ideologies, is also sometimes evident.
The difference between this concept and that of collective hysteria is ambiguous, judging from the available literature. This last term is used in a particular way to speak of collective delusions linked to threats, real or not; however, the phenomena of collective madness that we will describe have been qualified as collective hysteria by some authors.
At present, the level of agreement of the scientific community around these concepts is very low. The difficulties inherent in the analysis of collective phenomena they combine the vagueness 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 there have been several events related to the idea of collective madness. The usual symptoms of these disorders are usually psychosomatic., Such as headache, dizziness, weakness and fatigue, cough, nausea, abdominal and throat discomfort or difficulty breathing
Very generally, and taking into account the limitations that we have mentioned, we can say that the phenomena which fall into the category of collective madness they have in common the absence of an organic basis for the alterations, The fleetingness of signs and symptoms, the presence of intense anxiety and the appearance in isolated human groups.
1. The dance epidemics
In the High Middle Ages, between the 14th and 17th centuries, a series of very striking episodes of collective madness took place in Europe. These phenomena are called “dance epidemics” because those affected danced in groups in an uncontrolled manner until they lose consciousness from fatigue.
In general, dance epidemics occurred during times of economic crisis, and in some cases lasted for several months. Apparently, these facts were particularly common in groups of nuns, and the dance moves often involved obscene gestures.
2. Episodes in factories
From the industrial revolution, they began to appear presumptuous outbreaks of collective madness in factories. References to these phenomena can be found in many different places, including the UK, US, Russia, Germany, France and Italy. The specificity of the context is striking, even if the episodes vary considerably between them.
Thus, for example, in the 1970s, there were collective phenomena characterized by assaults and experiences of possession of spirits in various factories in Singapore; the “June Bug” episode, which took place in the United States, was clearly associated with psychosocial stress and had physical signs of anxiety.
3. The laughter epidemic in Tanganyika
In 1962, a phenomenon of collective madness took place in the region of Lake Tanganyika in Central Africa. In a school, three children started laughing uncontrollably; the episode affected 95 of the center’s 159 students. Very similar events followed in other schools; some adults have also shown signs.
4. Gray Siknis
Grisis siknis is a syndrome related to the specific culture of the Misquito society, which resides mainly in Honduras and Nicaragua. These are epidemics that mainly affect adolescent girls; these refer experiences of possession by spirits or demons and exhibit violent behavior and symptoms such as fear, anger, and dizziness.
This type of collective madness has gained some notoriety in recent years due to the epidemics that occurred after Hurricane Felix, particularly in Nicaragua. These episodes lasted relatively long and affected a large number of young women, passing from one to another by suggestion.