Radiolab

Navigate
Return Home

Meanwhile, back in Tanzania...

Thursday, September 11, 2008 - 04:51 PM

Last summer we traveled to Tanzania in our Laughter show to investigate a 1962 epidemic of contagious laughter. Well, it turns out these sorts of episodes still happen, and not just with laughter. Several fans of the show wrote in to tell us about the BBC reports of mass fainting among girls at a junior school in Tabora, Tanzania during exams. Reading up on the subject turned up this article on a 2007 'sociogenic' outbreak of twitching in Vinton, VA, and this account of more mass fainting in Bangladesh. Has anybody ever experienced this sort of thing? We'd be curious to hear...

Tags:

More in:

Comments [3]

Adam Newby

In the fall of 1998, I was a senior at Warren County High School in McMinnville, TN. During first period, there was a curious announcement over the intercom instructing all teachers to open their windows. A few minutes later, everyone was instructed to leave the school building. Apparently, there was a mysterious "fume" in one wing of the building that was causing several people to faint. They told us all to go home. Dozens of students went to the ER complaining of nausea and fainting spells. The school was closed for a week while several state and federal agencies checked the school for hazards. Nothing was found. While several students truly believed that a mysterious "fume" had made them sick, many other students who were sitting in the same classroooms reported that they had experienced no illness and had smelled nothing. The event made national headlines. A case study was later published in a medical journal in which the researchers claimed it was a classic case of mass hysteria. One of my teachers whose classroom was located in the wing vehemently claimed that all the agencies were wrong. He truly believed that there was some toxic fume present, and he continued to get sick for weeks after the event. The school finally agreed to put him in a new classroom. The teacher that received his old classroom never complained of anything making him sick.

Sep. 22 2008 11:23 AM
Azdren Coma

Oops.. please disregard the recent post from me. :)

Sep. 16 2008 04:25 PM
Heather Godfrey

This is not about mass fainting, but your story about the laughing episodes made me think of something that happened when I was younger.

When I was a kid my mom was famous for having laughing/crying fits. My parents had a very stressful marriage, they were always fighting, we were always having money problems, and we moved frequently. There were four kids, and we were always fighting, too - my mom could never seem to get control of us or her life. Every once in awhile she would be laughing really hard at something funny, and then all of a sudden start sobbing. She never knew why she was crying but she couldn't stop.

Then, when I was a junior in highschool it happened to me. My parents got divorced, and there was a lot of stress in my life with that, with school, and with my activities and my friends. One day I was on the phone with a friend and he made me laugh and then next thing I knew I was sobbing uncontrollably and couldn't stop. There was no direct reason to be crying and I didn't know why I was. It felt as if a switch had been thrown in my brain - like I had gotten to a certain level of emotion and my brain switched over from mirth to despair in a split second.
I have never heard anyone else talk about this happening, and it hasn't happened to me since then, but your show seemed to touch on a similar phenomenon and I found it fascinating.

Sep. 16 2008 01:01 PM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.

Supported by

Feeds