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Church giggles to the extreme
February 22, 2008 10:28 AM   Subscribe

In 1962, in a mission-run girls' boarding school in Kashasha, Tanzania, a student started laughing uncontrollably. Her laughter spread throughout the school, and the girls grew violent when teachers tried to calm them. Administration closed the school, sent some girls home, and the "epidemic of laughing and crying" spread to villages up and down the Bukoba district.

The blog entry is from Radiolab producer Ellen Horne, who traveled to Tanzania with funding help from the folks at TED. The resulting segment can be heard today on the season 4 premiere, or later this week on their podcast.

More recent episodes of "mass sociogenic illness" include a 2007 epidemic among students in Virginia high school, and a 1999 outbreak involving recalled Coca-Cola in Belgium.

Here's a take on MSI in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
posted by lauranesson (30 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Her laughter spread throughout the school, and the girls grew violent when teachers tried to calm them.

So, your saying it was a laugh riot?
posted by quin at 10:37 AM on February 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


you're, grrr.
posted by quin at 10:38 AM on February 22, 2008


um... weed?
posted by MythMaker at 10:42 AM on February 22, 2008


typical middle school...
posted by HuronBob at 10:43 AM on February 22, 2008


Paging Dr. Lambshead.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 10:43 AM on February 22, 2008


When I was 19 I attended a memorial service given by a recently minted priest, Fr. Ben. It was his first memorial service and, to make certain everyone knew how serious it was, he inserted the word "dead" as every third word in the liturgy. We tried not to laugh, but what laughter leaked out only incited Fr. Ben to use the word dead more often, modifying it to "really dead." When we got to the Lord's Prayer, he began "Our Father who looks over dead people. . ." The congregation lost it. Poor dead person. Poor really dead person.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:45 AM on February 22, 2008 [20 favorites]


At least it wasn't a penis panic
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:47 AM on February 22, 2008


Did they tear off their clothes, bit off their tongues, and suddenly turn radioactive?
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:58 AM on February 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


AVALANCHE!

no, wait...
posted by CitizenD at 11:37 AM on February 22, 2008


[curse you, astro zombie, and your fleet fingers!]
posted by CitizenD at 11:38 AM on February 22, 2008


That reads like a Borges or Italo Calvino story. Weird.
posted by etc. at 12:09 PM on February 22, 2008


HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH...

...ahhhhhhh..HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

work with me here
posted by LordSludge at 12:14 PM on February 22, 2008


Did they tear off their clothes, bit off their tongues, and suddenly turn radioactive?

Puberty will do that to a girl.
posted by LordSludge at 12:18 PM on February 22, 2008


The dreaded giggle loop.
posted by Pendragon at 1:05 PM on February 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


More stories like this please.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:09 PM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I came >this< close to referencing that Coupling episode, Pendragon. I'm glad I wasn't the only one who thought of it.
posted by quin at 1:22 PM on February 22, 2008


Ah, and let's not forget what happened last year at Villa de las NiƱas (sponsored by LG!) in Chalco, Mexico. Symproms included difficulty walking and nausea.

From the first link: "Hundreds of girls at a Mexican boarding school run by Catholic nuns have been struck by a mystery illness that authorities say is psychological, raising questions about conditions inside the academy."

More: 1, 2, 3
posted by omegar at 1:25 PM on February 22, 2008


symptoms, dammit
posted by omegar at 1:26 PM on February 22, 2008


Symproms happen in Sym City at the end of the school year, right?
posted by HuronBob at 1:35 PM on February 22, 2008


Just heard about it on the radio:

http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2008/02/22

interesting stuff
posted by rosswald at 1:37 PM on February 22, 2008


Ouch sorry, boss came up behind me before I could preview and read the rest of the post and see they were already cited.
posted by rosswald at 1:41 PM on February 22, 2008


Makes me think of Culture-bound syndromes
posted by symbioid at 1:49 PM on February 22, 2008


Silly little side notes: This is my first little fpp, so I'm glad you like it, LobsterMitten. I also got to "see" the premiere last night, which was pretty fun. The picture shown on their site was the one where they asked us to look very stern and slightly disapproving.
posted by lauranesson at 2:15 PM on February 22, 2008


Curse you, Virginia High School was the actual name of my high school. I thought something interesting finally happened there, but no, just some random Virginia high school.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:20 PM on February 22, 2008


The attack is accompanied by restlessness and on occasions violence when restraint is attempted.

This sentence bothers me immensely. Why are they attempting restraint before violence occurs?

Also, I have to agree with Omegar, here. "..commenced to act in an abnormal manner" just isn't going to cut it. For such a phenomenally bizarre event, you'd think there'd be more attention given to writing a report about it. This seems like one of those cases where medical practitioners and researchers should have gotten a bit of training in ethnography. It's as though everything that didn't have a number attached to it was just left out. (Yes, when you can answer a question with quantitative data, it's easier to remain objective, but often, this is not an option.)

Are there other reports/articles about the Tanzania epidemic?
posted by ErWenn at 5:43 PM on February 22, 2008


Some thoughts about the other links (which I only just read):

From the Guardian article on the Virginia outbreak:
Why that school rather than thousands of others should be susceptible to mass hysteria is, for the moment, unclear.
Why does a single outbreak of a rare condition indicate that one school is more susceptible than the others? Now if the school had had multiple outbreaks of sociogenic illnesses, this would be a more sensible comment.

The BJoP article gives a much nicer definition of "sociogenic illness" than a lot of others that I read. Some of the Wikipedia articles on various related topics (quoting other sources) begin with a definition that mentions not seeming to have a common cause or having no identifiable physical cause, and proceeding on to discuss the conditions as though it were known that the cause was psychological. That just gets my pedanties all in a bunch.*

*Oh wow, I just made that word up, and I now think it's the best sentence I've written in years.
posted by ErWenn at 6:02 PM on February 22, 2008 [5 favorites]


MY pedanties are neatly laid out on a line, ordered after size and each one classified according to a system I designed myself.
posted by Catfry at 2:42 AM on February 23, 2008


Salem witch trials.
posted by nax at 6:51 AM on February 23, 2008


>>when restraint is attempted.

It's entirely possible that family members and others in the community attempted to help by restraint. The passive voice doesn't state who was doing the restraining.
posted by honest knave at 8:47 AM on February 23, 2008


Ever hear of the Toronto Blessing at the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church (now Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship) and their holy laughter that spread through the congregation at times?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto_blessing

Hmm - maybe another form of the same thing? With added violence.
posted by donaldekelly at 7:19 PM on February 23, 2008


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