The Laughter Epidemic: An Example of How Much We’re Connected and Affected by Others’ Emotions

The Laughter Epidemic

Tanzania 1962: In a girls’ boarding school in Africa, three students suddenly started laughing uncontrollably. Six weeks later, more than half the school had been infected. The school was closed and people were sent back to their towns and villages. Ten days later, another curious thing happened: the laughter broke out again in a village over 55 miles away, where some of the students lived. 100s more were affected. Other outbreaks started over a wide area, until the epidemic peated out over six months. By then, over 1,000 people had been affected, though they all fully recovered.


So why did it happen?


Some villagers thought it was caused by radiation poisoning, and doctors were called in to investigate. Their findings: mass psychogenic illness.


Emotions of all kinds can spread quickly.


How you feel depends on how others feel.


In fact, even a friends’ friends’ friend can affect you.


We’re biologically hardwired to mimic people around us.


By copying others’ outward behavior, we also adopt their inner emotions: your friend feels happy. She smiles. So you smile, and you feel happier. Positive emotions like this can fuel an emotional stampede, which can often last longer than a stampede of negative emotions.

–Excerpt from the above video, “Laughter Epidemic.”

Image: "The three gigglers" by Alan Cleaver.

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