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How a Soap Opera Virus Felled Hundreds of Students in Portugal


Psychology Update, in the past few weeks, has posted a few articles regarding “TikTok Tics”.  That is, due to social media, many adolescent girls have been showing Tourette-like symptoms after watching videos of others displaying tics on the social media platform.  This phenomenon is like other past episodes of mass hysteria.   In 2006, Portuguese students began having serious physical and psychological problems after watch a benign soap opera called, “Strawberries With Sugar” (English translation).  From the Smithsonian article:  “The Portuguese students weren’t suffering from a virus or allergies: they’d come down with mass psychogenic illness.  In a psychogenic illness, a psychological trigger—rather than a biological or environmental one—causes actual physical symptoms. 

“As sociologist Robert Bartholomew explains: “Mass hysteria is the placebo effect in reverse. People can literally make themselves ill from nothing more than an idea.” Bartholomew has studied mass hysteria extensively, and written about outbreaks around the world.”

“Parents and students fight the diagnosis as no one wants to accept that their kids were ‘hysterical,’” he said by email. “In reality, it’s a collective stress reaction and found in normal people.”  

“Also known as mass hysteria or conversion disorder, mass psychogenic illness can be divided into two main types: anxiety hysteria (triggered by extreme anxiety in a close-knit group and causing dizziness, headaches and fainting) and motor hysteria (which disproportionately affects girls and women, and results from long-term stress, causing twitching, shaking, facial tics and other muscular convulsions).”

This fascinating article gives a detailed history of such events that have occurred in many  cultures and societies over hundreds of years.  To the reader:  does “TikTok Tics” follow the same patterns as the same psychogenic illness due to social media?



Smithsonian, March 6, 2017 by  Lorraine Boissoneault




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•What is a “psychogenic illness”?  How is it explained?

•Are the adolescents who show symptoms of psychogenic  illness faking?  Or are the symptoms real?

•How do psychologists account for psychogenic illness and mass hysteria?



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