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Throughout history, a phenomenon of a medical-social nature has been observed that has been called “sociogenic mass disease”. This name describes a spread of signs and symptoms of an apparent disease that occurs quickly in a given population, without there being causes or medical explanations that can explain it.

The manifestations of this phenomenon throughout history are characterized by differences depending on the concerns and fears of each era. One of the oldest historical examples that exist around this is the dance plague of 1518, which occurred in Strasbourg. In this “plague” it claimed around 400 victims who died as a result of exhaustion or heart attacks, for feeling the need to join a collective dance and not being able to stop. It might seem unlikely, but there are historical records of this episode in which the doctors of the time attributed it to “warm blood” (due to the humor theory that was the medical paradigm that dominated at the time).

In more recent episodes, episodes of sociogenic mass disease have been detected in which, for example, a group of adolescents in schools cannot stop laughing even at the cost of their will, or episodes of terror due to collective demonic possession, or episodes of of generalized anxiety due to exposure to a toxic agent in a food.

Nowadays, the use of the term “mass hysteria” is avoided because the historical origin of the word hysteria is problematic because hysteria was attributed to a feminine characteristic that was not scientifically justified. However, what is common in these experiences is that there is a component of stress or anxiety that collectively triggers these manifestations. Generally, the way in which these manifestations are treated is by dissolving the social group that manifests them and avoiding exposure to the image or behavior that triggered the manifestation.

Some specialists have observed that social networks, in some cases, have triggered this phenomenon in specific groups of people, as was observed in groups of female adolescents who spent many hours watching Tiktok videos that triggered motor responses similar to Tourette Syndrome. The first cases of sociogenic mass disease triggered by social networks were detected two years ago, coinciding with the start of the pandemic. What has helped in these cases is usually stress management strategies and cutting exposure to triggers.

It is known that stress is one of the fundamental factors, but it is still unknown why some behaviors can trigger it and others not, why some people can be more vulnerable or even why there are certain movements or manifestations that can be more “contagious”. ”. What is undoubtedly known is that stress and anxiety are the central factors by which mass sociogenic disease can manifest.

Although it is classified as a “disease”, it is probably a social manifestation of the conditions of stress and anxiety in a group of people, derived from the serious socio-environmental conditions that a group of people is going through. The manifestation of these “symptoms” is just the tip of the iceberg of a lifestyle that has not prioritized mental health.


Liliana Martinez Lomeli

Food and society columnist


Food and society columnist. Gastronaut, observer and foodie. She is a researcher in sociology of food, nutritionist. She is president and founder of Funalid: Foundation for Food and Development.

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