Ikke noget at grine af

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Jeg er ved at læse This book has feelings, en lille bog af de britiske psykologer Neil Scott og Sandi Mann. Her får man et godt overblik over hvad man i dag indenfor psykologi ved om det menneskelige følelsesliv og hvordan det manifesterer sig.

I afsnittet om latter faldt jeg over en episode, jeg ikke kendte til. I 1962 var der en langvarig latterepidemi i Tanganyika (det nuværende Tanzania). Tre piger i en klasse på en pigeskole begyndte at fnise, og det smittede. Lærerne kunne ikke få eleverne til at holde op, og da eleverne kom hjem, spredte den ukontrollerede latter sig i lokalsamfundet. Efter at det havde stået på i to uger, blev Røde Kors involveret. Først omkring et halvt år senere var denne underlige epidemi slut.

Min første tanke var, at det må have været sjovt (det er som om udtrykket “grineren” er malplaceret her…), men det var det nok ikke. Og i selvsamme bog kan man i afsnittet om lykkefølelse læse, at Tanzania er det land i verden, hvor befolkningen føler sig mindst lykkelige!

Men hvad var det så, der skete? I en artikel i Chicago Tribune bliver latterforskeren Christian F. Hempelmann interviewet om denne underlige episode. Den var grundlaget for hans PhD-afhandling.

Hempelmann siger:

Something did happen in Tanganyika. The bad news is, it had nothing to do with humor. There was no merriment. Laughter was one of many symptoms.

These people were showing anxiety-related symptoms, from pain, to fainting, to respiratory problems, and sometimes people get rashes. There were attacks of crying as well as laughing.

The incident did last for about a year, but it occurred in relapses, not constantly. It spread to a couple of other schools and another village. The school did close down. You can’t know exactly how many people were affected, but it was around several thousand.

Det var med andre ord massehysteri. Al latteren var stress-udløst. Hempelmann siger:

It’s more common than you think. It usually starts in a school or in a work place, when people are in a stressful situation and they don’t have the power to get out of that situation.

In 1962, Tanganyika had just won its independence. The young people involved reported that they were feeling stressed by the higher expectations of their teachers and parents. It is a common occurrence and a costly occurrence if it occurs at your workplace because it may have to be closed down. This happened in Lafayette, Ind., a couple of years ago. They’ll get someone to spray the area to comfort people who were involved. People will say that there were a bunch of bugs and we were all stung by it. They won’t admit that it was hysteria.

Det giver noget at tænke over – hvor mange af de følelsesudbrud, som vi har i vores del af verden i et land, der af og til proklameres til at være “verdens lykkeligste”, er mon i virkeligheden udløst af stress?