The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic

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Throughout, human history mass hysteria has proved how irrationally our mind and body react to certain situations because of fear. Laughter is known to be one of the world’s bests medicines as people would say, but the 1962 tanganyika laughter epidemic made it clear that it isn’t just a joyful noise. The Laughter epidemic commenced in boarding school on the shore of lake victoria. What was intended to be a innocent laugh resulted to dozens of adolescent girls laughing uncontrollably. In attempt to stabilize the mysterious breakouts, officials had no choice but send everyone home. Over 1000 people were affected and 14 schools temporarily had to be closed. Families and the government relied of different experts to figure out what was going on. 

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The only explanation of this epidemic was the fact that these people were diagnosed with mass hysteria and ended up being victimized by it. . It is evident that this was a case of mass hysteria because there was no physical abnormal signs of disease, it was stress induced and it spread subsequently, It is stated that common epidemics are caused by the spread of viruses, bacteria, or parasites, and could easily be identified. At first the the epidemic appeared to spread from person to person as it were an infectious disease. Their were cases of patients experiencing laughter that would last from a few minutes to hours. Two physicians, A.M. Rankin and P.J. Philip, who were called in to examine the situation. They stated , ‘The onset is sudden, with attacks accompanied by restlessness and on occasions violence when restraint is attempted. The patient may say that things are moving around in the head and that she fears that someone is running after Her. strangely there were no abnormal physical signs among the afflicted, apart from slightly dilated pupils.” Many experts led up to the same conclusion. The results of careful laboratory examination showed the lack of abnormal signs. There was no evidence abnormal symptoms, , not to mention nobody knew the initial cause of the epidemic. That explained why there were no fatal cases. 

Even attempts were made to find a common food factor that might contain a toxic substance capable of producing the clinical picture. The water supplies varied from rainwater collected in sealed tanks at the Kashasha school to local wells and streams at smaller villages. Experts were incapable of discovering factor could not explain the spread of the disease from one person to another. This is probably a culturally determined disease.With these discoveries, scientists claimed that they concluded, this epidemic as a psychological illness. It is all in the minds of the people that caused the symptoms they dealt with. The epidemic was not caused by any environmental factors, but rather a mass psychological illness. Symptoms did correlate to mass psychogenic illness which included nausea, headaches, and fainting. Although there were no abnormal symptoms, this psychological illness caused by stress was problematic. 

In addition, Extreme stress is capable of doing lots of bizzare things to our mind and body. It turns out that stress contributed to the Mass Psychogenic Illness which cause the people to manifest physical symptoms that have no identifiable organic effect. What caused this stress was what confused the experts. However, Charles F. Hempelmann of Purdue University was the one that theorized that these episodes were in fact stress induced, he also explained the source of stress. He articulates, “It was just a terrible work environment, nobody wanted to work at the DMV, they had particularly bad supervision there, and they just subconsciously found a way out of the situation that they could copy from each other,” says Hempelmann. “It’s not as crazy as one would think.” These people lived in a undeveloped country. People could of been stressed for many reasons. It usually occurs in a group of people who don’t have a lot of power, and were at low status. It was their last resort to express that something is wrong. That may be why more women and children experienced it. Children were stress from higher expectations for their peers and elders. Experts also state that this was a way for people to express something was wrong. Many people felt the same way and were consumed with stress. This influenced the to subconsciously, copy a complex of symptoms, of which laughter is just one.

Ultimately, these people were facing a psychological illness caused by stress which eventually was capable of spreading. Furthermore, Like all cases of mass hysteria, the phenomena spread fairly quickly and only affect a certain group of people. As already mentioned it affected people who were at low status, and could not handle the hardships of life. It mainly involved children, and women. Sociologist Robert Bartholomew explained how this strange behavior spread: “People take this at face value. One person laughs, then another person laughs, then it spreads like an avalanche.” It has already been proven that there was no infectious disease going on, and the fact it spread so subsequently made more clear that this was most definitely a case of mass hysteria. The mass hysteria began with a few people experiencing symptoms of severe anxiety or stress from life conditions. When these symptoms were recognized it became quickly apparent and present throughout the stressed community. In a matter of time, they drove themselves to imitate one another and follow others who they tended to sympathize with. Although, this was no infectious disease it still spread like wildfire affecting multiple schools and pupils. 

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The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic. (2021, Dec 31). Retrieved June 27, 2022 , from
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