Panics and Mass Hysteria

A Moral Panic is a fear that grips a large number of people that some evil threatens the well-being of society, followed by hostility, sometimes violence, toward those thought responsible.

The most famous moral panic was the fear of witches in Europe between 1400-1650. It resulted in investigations, torture, and burning at the stake of people accused of witchcraft. They are often fueled by the media, such as during the 1980's the fear that children were being sexually abused at day care centers spread across the United States. They thrive on uncertainty and anxiety.

Mass Hysteria is an imagined threat that causes physical symptoms among a large number of people.

There is no real explanation for why they occur, it "just happens." Mass hysteria follows basic principles of human behavior. People can start to have real symptoms just from stories they hear. For example, in the year 2001 in New Delhi, the capital of India a "monkey man" stalked people who were sleeping on rooftops during the hot summer. Fear struck the capital. People would wake up screaming that the monkey man was after them, and some people jumped off two stories to escape him. There never really was an ape-like killer. And another example of a mass hysteria was when people in France and Belgium were becoming sick after drinking coca-cola, and after an investigation experts said it was due to bad carbon dioxide, and a fungicide. Coke recalled over 15 million cases of its soft drink to later find out there was nothing wrong with the drink in the first place.