Humans are hard-wired to function in groups. But it's a double-edged sword -- it takes a lot of us to build a city, but as anyone who has ever witnessed a riot can attest, people's ability to act like idiots also multiplies in crowds.
And this phenomenon can manifest itself in really weird and even fatal ways. That's how we wound up with bizarre stories like ...
5The June Bug Disease
In 1962, some workers in an American textile factory came down with a mysterious infection that caused numbness, dizziness and vomiting. Basically, it had all the symptoms of a bad flu. But workers said it was no flu -- the sickness was the result of a sudden infestation of mysterious venomous insects. If you got bitten, you got sick.
"The only cure is a 30 percent raise and an additional 10 personal days per employee."
You can imagine the effect this news had on the factory floor -- the moment people heard that venomous bugs were crawling everywhere (and that there could be one IN YOUR HAIR RIGHT NOW), they freaked the hell out. But they were powerless to stop the plague -- soon, a whopping 62 employees were sickened by "the June bug disease," and a bunch of them even had to be hospitalized due to the attacks from these weaponized insects.
There was only one problem: No such bug was ever discovered in the factory, or anywhere else. They never existed. The venomous June bug was completely fictional.
If this thing has any poison, we're pretty sure it ends up smeared on the outside of your light bulbs.
What Really Happened?
In reality, the workers of the factory succumbed to a phenomenon known as hysterical contagion. It's a neat little trick of the mind that causes the body to react physically to things like stress and peer pressure, often manifesting in the form of nausea and other symptoms of illness.
And it's shockingly common. In 2006, 300 students in 14 separate schools in Portugal came down with similar symptoms after an episode of a popular teen soap opera called Strawberries With Sugar featured a plot about a mysterious and deadly virus outbreak (don't all teen soaps rehash that trope sooner or later?).
"Ebola will eat all our pretty faces! Yaaaaay!"
Or you may have heard about the notorious Pokemon epilepsy scare, in which blinking lights in an episode of the cartoon triggered nausea and vomiting in hundreds of Japanese kids. The original reported cases might have been real, but in the end, the number of kids reporting attacks was many times greater than the actual portion of the population that has sensitivity to flashing lights. At some point, healthy kids started convincing themselves they were having the seizures.
"Y-y-yeah, th-this is how J-j-japan enjoys th-things. You w-wouldn't understand."
Of course, it would be different if we were talking about symptoms like, say, blood shooting from your eyes -- it's hard for your body to spontaneously cause that due to peer pressure. But we all know that certain symptoms can be caused by a fear or stress reaction -- nausea, headaches, dizziness, hives -- and if the thing you're scared of supposedly causes those symptoms, you've got all of the makings of a very imaginary yet real disease. And it gets weirder ...