Also known as mass sociogenic illness, mass hysteria cases involve the idea that some unseen, unknown—and therefore potentially toxic or dangerous—contaminant is present is spread from person to person. Because the symptoms are subtle, even those who do not experience anything out of the ordinary might agree that, yes, now that someone mentions it, maybe they do smell something odd, or are in fact feeling a bit lightheaded. This can cause panic which then escalates the person’s symptoms and helps spread the hysteria. Ben has investigated dozens of cases of mass hysteria, both alone and with his co-author Bob Bartholomew; here are some highlights.

Select investigations

Revisiting the Pokémon Panic at 25

Though many Pokémon fans are likely too young to remember it, in 1997 a panic and hysteria surrounded the cartoon. It terrified parents, baffled doctors, and led directly to those routine warnings on video games and television shows that feature flashing sequences.
Read at Center For Inquiry

The Monkey Man Panic: 20 Years Later

In 2001, the capital of India was gripped in a panic. Early reports claimed that some mysterious monkey-like creature attacked many residents in New Delhi, leaving fear, scars, and ultimately even dead bodies in its wake.
Read at Skeptical Inquirer

TikTok Shooting Panic Hoax Goes Viral

In 2021, rumors circulated on TikTok warning of imminent school shootings. The rumored threat went by several names, including the “TikTok Shooting Challenge” and a “National Shoot Up Your School Day” message, allegedly encouraging students to attack schools on Friday, December 17.
Read at Skeptical Inquirer

Mass Hysteria Is Grounding Planes and Closing Factories

Mass hysteria, also known as mass sociogenic illness, was likely responsible for several cases of people falling ill around the world, including incidents in 2016 in a Vietnamese factory and on a British Airways flight forced to make an emergency landing.
Read at Seeker

Indian Woman Beaten to Death for ‘Witchcraft’

While witch hunts may seem to be dusty relics of a bygone age, the persecution, torture and execution of suspected witches continue in many places to the present day.
Read at Live Science

The ‘Momo Challenge’ and the ‘Blue Whale Game’: Online Suicide Game Conspiracies

Kids and their parents around the world apparently have a new deadly online danger to fear: a mysterious and terrifying online figure known as “Momo,” whose creepy image is that of a bug-eyed, reptilian-visaged woman in the Japanese horror tradition.
Read at Skeptical Inquirer

Other investigations

  • Disappearing Dhow Illusion
    Mombasa, Kenya, 2007
  • Eyeball Licking Panic / Urban Legend
    Japan, 2013
  • Ghost-Haunted Factory Toilet
    Gazipur, Bangladesh, 2013
  • High School Mass Hysteria
    Buffalo, New York, 2006
  • Muti Witchcraft Murders
    Swaziland and South Africa, 2013
  • Pokemon Panic
    Tokyo, Japan, Southern Medical Journal, 2000
  • Popobawa Bat-demon Djinn
    Zanzibar Island, Tanzania, 2007