What causes mass delusions and mass hysteria

By M.Farouk Radwan, MSc.

Humans are masters of self deception

The fact that the human perception can easily change according to many different factors , including emotions, makes it very likely for a human to think and act without any rationality.

In a previous article with the title Why do most people live a twisted reality i explained how our perception can let us see the world in a totally wrong and even delusional way.

This doesn't stop here. Humans don't just see the world incorrectly then develop false beliefs but they sometimes defend those false beliefs eagerly and refuse to accept any evidence that goes against those beliefs. In my article Why do people stick to their incorrect opinions i explained how people stick to their irrational beliefs just because they provide them with some psychological stability.

In other words a person might prefer to live with a wrong belief just because it makes them feel better compared to how they will feel after facing the bitter truth.

So why did i start with such an introduction?
The information in this short introduction is very important in understanding how a large number of people can get delusional at the same.

What causes mass delusions and mass hysteria

There are many reported cases of mass hysteria where people believed they got infected with a certain disease , and even displayed symptoms of infection, where as they were perfectly fine. While we don't see this kind of mass hysteria everyday we still see different forms of it in our daily lives.

How many times you found a very large number of people defending a totally irrational belief?
And how many times those people kept swearing to you that they saw some kind of evidence that supports that weird event?

The simplest example would be the people who claim that they saw aliens and interacted with them. See Why do some people believe they got abducted by aliens.

Here are some reasons why mass hysteria or mass delusions could happen:

  • 1) Uncertainty and fear of the unknown: Humans are creatures that fear the unknown and that do their best to make everything predictable. When humans fail to understand something they might get really scared. This kind of fear can motivate them to jump to irrational conclusions just to calm themselves down. Studies have shown that at the times of great uncertainty mass hysteria is more likely to happen
  • 2) Excessive stress: When a person gets subjected to excessive stress he is more likely to make irrational conclusions about things or to get delusional. Humans are smart but the problem is that their emotions can sometimes prevent them from using their minds properly
  • 3) Reception to suggestions: In the Ultimate guide to developing Super powers i said that the human brain is extremely receptive to suggestions. In one case of mass hysteria children in a school developed the symptoms of a non-existent disease right after a popular kid in school developed those symptoms. In such a case the powerful suggestions were absorbed by the minds of those kids and as a result they believed they got infected by that disease
  • 4) Panic leads to irrational thinking: When humans experience panic they tend to think irrationally. Under the effect of panic a suggestion can easily skip to the subconscious mind and turn into a belief
  • 5) Attention seeking: According to one suggestion , that seems logical to me, sometimes people would experience mass hysteria to draw attention to the bad conditions they are living in. In such a case if a large number of students were treated badly inside a certain school they might develop mass hysteria to draw attention to such poor conditions

The everyday mass hysteria

Just as i said earlier mass hysteria doesn't have to appear in the form of a non-existent epidemic but it can appear in the form of an irrational belief adopted by a large group of people who defend it fiercely.

This is why i said earlier that sometimes it's impossible to negotiate with a certain person or some people simply because the wrong beliefs they have help them maintain their psychological stability.

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