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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 21.2 > Massachusetts Mass Hysteria Cover Up

Massachusetts Mass Hysteria Cover Up

DURING THE WINTER OF 1692, FEAR SWEPT THROUGH the Puritan settlement of old Salem Village in what is now the town of Danvers, Massachusetts, amid accusations of witchcraft and claims of supernatural happenings. Before long, people were put on trial for their lives, accused of consorting with Satan. By the time the scare ended in May 1693, at least 20 people had been executed and upwards of 200 more were arrested and held for trial.

Most historians agree that the key triggering event was the appearance of strange behaviors in a group of young girls who began to twitch, convulse, and contort their bodies in unusual positions. Sometimes they appeared to enter a trance and uttered unintelligible sounds. With 21st century hindsight, it is evident that the girls were suffering from conversion disorder—the converting of psychological stress into physical symptoms that have no organic basis. While individual cases of conversion disorder are relatively common, it is rare for the condition to spread within a group. It is no small irony that over three centuries later, a group of schoolgirls in Danvers would experience mysterious “hiccups” that would leave the community searching for answers. In 1692, the diagnosis of bewitchment meant that a medical condition had been mistaken for a supernatural affliction. In 2014, state health officials would attempt to refute claims that the bizarre outbreak of “hiccupping” was an episode of mass hysteria by referring to scientific studies of tic disorders, which indicated that the prevalence of symptoms was within the normal range for the size of the student body.

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About Skeptic

UPLOADING YOUR BRAIN SPECIAL ISSUE: Uploading the Mind to a Computer Mind Uploading: An Argument for the Scientific and Technical Plausibility of Preserving Thoughts Indefinitely by Kenneth Hayworth; Uploading Your Mind Does Not Compute by Peter Kassan; Virtual Immortality: Why the Mind-Body Problem is Still a Problem by Robert Lawrence Kuhn SPECIAL SECTION: What Motivates Extremists? Once Upon a Time: Re-Thinking the Fight Against Extremists by Tina Dupuy; Dealing With Islamism: Trust, Costly Signaling and Forming Moral Teams by Peter Boghossian and James A. Lindsay; Apocalypse Soon?: How Emerging Technologies, Population Growth, and Global Warming Will Fuel Apocalyptic Terrorism in the Future by Phil Torres ARTICLES Paleoanthropology Wars: The Discovery of Homo naledi has Generated Considerable Controversy in this Scientific Discipline by Nathan H. Lents; Charlie Sheen’s HIV Goat Milk Doctor by Harriet Hall, M.D.; Massachusetts: Mass Hysteria Cover Up by Robert E. Bartholomew; Agony and Ecstasy: Were Saint Paul’s Christian Beliefs a Symptom of Epileptic Personality Disorder? by Harry White; In Defense of Anti-Science: Why the Anti-anti-science Movement Has Gone too Far by J. Howard Siegal; The Decline of Intelligent Design: The 10th Anniversary of the Dover Decision and the Demise of Intelligent Design by Donald Prothero COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Flu Shots Facts and Fallacies by Harriet Hall, M.D.;The Gadfly: How Accurate is the “Cycle of Abuse”? by Carol Tavris REVIEW “Sacred Cows: A Lighthearted Look at Belief and Tradition Around the World” by Seth Andrews reviewed by Donald Prothero JUNIOR SKEPTIC: Man-Eating Plants: The Cannibal Tree of Madagascar by Daniel Loxton.
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