behavioral epidemic

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An epidemic attributable to the power of suggestion rather than to an agent, such as an infectious pathogen or noxious substance. It is manifest in aberrant behavior, such as convulsions or fainting fits of pupils in a school, or historically as “dancing mania” that occurred in medieval Europe. Sometimes it has physical features, such as skin rashes. “Epidemic” is an apt word because the condition spreads by direct contact: word of mouth. Radio or television can provoke epidemics, e.g., of suicidal conduct if a character in a popular television program commits (fictional) suicide. Episodes of communal or national passion, such as lynchings and genocidal massacres provoked by a demagogue leader or group, in which former friends and working colleagues turn against their neighbors, such as occurred in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, are a particularly dangerous form of behavioral epidemic.

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology.

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