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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Contagious Laughter = Mass Hysteria ?

On my walk home today, I was listening to the Radiolab podcast on laughter. They mentioned this contagious laughter disease that spread in Tanzania soon after the country gained independence and it was so interesting. A producer of the show went to investigate and explained that this "disease" may not have been caused by a specific pathogen but rather a psychological response to independence and new culture. Check it out for yourself!

Click here to read the article that was put out about it in 1963 from the Central African Medical Journal.

Click here to listen to the entire podcast about laughter (and I highly recommend this podcast in general).


Deborah said...

Hey Everyone,

I was playing a game and this word came up: Piblokto. Speaking of hysteria, check this out:

"Piblokto, Pibloktoq or Arctic hysteria is a condition exclusively appearing in Eskimo societies living within the Arctic Circle. Appearing most prevalently in winter, it is considered to be a form of a culture-bound syndrome.

Symptoms can include intense hysteria (screaming, uncontrolled wild behavior), depression, coprophagia, insensitivity to extreme cold (such as running around in the snow naked), echolalia (senseless repetition of overheard words) and more. This condition is most often seen in Eskimo women. This culture-bound syndrome is possibly linked to vitamin A toxicity (hypervitaminosis A). The native Eskimo diet provides rich sources of vitamin A and is possibly the cause or a causative factor. The ingestion of organ meats, liver of arctic fish, mammals, where the vitamin is stored in toxic quantities can be fatal."

Sanjai said...


I actually read up on this illness during anthro last year. One of our essay choices mentioned it.

Piblokto is usually seen in adult women and there are many theories as to why it is "culture bound". Another factor which might lead to its manifestation is due to their consistent suppression of emotions and having a dominant male in the household. Some suggest this constant suppression of emotions can lead to a sudden outburst of hysteria. Of course, there are other cultures with a similar patriarchal system, but no manifestation of hysteria like that seen in piblokto; which is why this disorder is particularly interesting.

I actually was a video about piblokto on the net once, but it doesn't seem to be on the net anymore : (