What is Mass Hysteria?

In 1990 more than 4000 students were afflicted by a mysterious illness in a province of Kosovo. Symptoms included impeded respiration, weakness, headaches and chest pains. As the illness spread from city to city a mass panic ensued. Doctors throughout the province came together to find an explanation, the diagnosis: poisoning.

But there was a problem. The toxicology reports showed no evidence of any poisoning whatsoever. A bi-partisan federal commission was formed to investigate and later that year the Chief of Epidemiology of Kosovo explained in a letter that the disease appeared to be a psychogenic illness.

What Does this Have to Do With COVID-19?

COVID-19 is certainly a real disease caused by a real virus. The data clearly bears this out. Reports of the virus’ lethality, however, are greatly exaggerated. The mind is a very powerful thing and fear does not only cause us to imagine monsters in the dark when there is nothing there but it can also make us sick and cause us to act out irrationally and hurt ourselves. When a collective mass of people all experience fear at the same time the hysteria becomes self-reinforcing as people feed off of the fear of one-another. Fortunately, just as was done in Kosovo, we can dispel hysteria with a calm, cool-headed look at the available data.