A social-psychological theory of collective anxiety attacks: the "Mad Gasser" reexamined

Bartholomew, Robert E., and Victor, Jeffrey S. (2004) A social-psychological theory of collective anxiety attacks: the "Mad Gasser" reexamined. Sociological Quarterly, 45 (2). pp. 229-248.

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This article presents a social-psychological theory to explain collective behavior involving unusual somatic reactions. The authors term this social phenomenon a 'collective anxiety attack', to distinguish it from the psychiatric label of 'mass psychogenic illness.' First, the article contrasts fundamental assumptions of a psychiatric-medical interpretation with a social-psychological interpretation. Next, the article illustrates the difference using a reinterpretation of and new data about the classic case of the 'mad gasser of Mattoon.' Then, the authors present a social-psychological theory which suggests that collective anxiety is induced by a shared belief in a threat rumor. Once a belief in an imminent threat spreads widely enough to create a consensual definition of the situation, the belief intensifies fear and distorts individual perception. Belief in the threat rumor creates psychological stress and expectancy effects that shape an individual's somatic reactions, so that expectations of feeling sick result in symptoms of sickness. In conclusion, the article suggests a program for research and ways of managing collective anxiety attacks.

Item ID: 13944
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1533-8525
Keywords: collective anxiety attack; social-psychological theory
Date Deposited: 01 Dec 2011 22:58
FoR Codes: 17 PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES > 1701 Psychology > 170106 Health, Clinical and Counselling Psychology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 92 HEALTH > 9204 Public Health (excl. Specific Population Health) > 920410 Mental Health @ 100%
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