Types of Mass Behavior: Definitions & Examples

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  • 0:08 Mass Behavior
  • 1:13 Mass Hysteria
  • 2:18 Rumors
  • 3:16 Gossip
  • 3:56 Fads
  • 4:56 Fashion
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Valerie Houghton, Ph.D.

Valerie holds a Ph.D. in Health Psychology.

Mass behavior is a type of social behavior. There are many different types of mass behavior. In this lesson, we will define and describe mass hysteria, rumors, gossip, fads, and fashions as examples of mass behavior.

Mass Behavior

Have you heard the news? The zoot suits from the 1940s are coming back into fashion, and absolutely everyone is wearing them. Did you know that if you go out shopping this weekend and purchase a zoot suit, you will be participating in mass behavior?

Mass behavior is a type of social behavior and is defined as collective behavior among people who are spatially dispersed from one another. Collective behavior describes the actions, thoughts, and feelings of relatively temporary and unstructured groups of people. In contrast, a social movement is a large, ongoing group of people engaged in an organized behavior designed to bring about or resist change in society.

There are many different forms of mass behavior. For example, mass hysteria, rumors, gossip, fads, and fashions are all examples of mass behavior. In this lesson, we will define and describe these examples of mass behavior.

Mass Hysteria

Mass hysteria is a common term used to describe a situation in which various people all suffer from similar hysterical symptoms. Hysteria is now viewed as a psychiatric disorder consisting of signs and symptoms of illnesses with no organic basis. Mass hysteria is also known as collective hysteria, epidemic hysteria, or mass psychogenic illness.

An example of mass hysteria occurred in 1944, when a woman in Illinois smelled something odd outside her window, felt her throat and lips were burning, and suddenly couldn't move her legs. After calling the police, her symptoms went away. While looking for the source of the gas, her husband observed someone outside the house - a possible instigator of the 'gas attack.' After gossip and the local newspaper spread the news of the event, many other people in the small town developed similar symptoms. No gas or evidence of any kind was ever found.


Rumors are unsubstantiated information about a subject that is spread informally. A rumor is typically a piece of information or a story that has not been verified, meaning that the person telling it doesn't know if it's true or false.

Slander is a rumor about a person that is spread in order to purposefully cause pain or damage. When slander is written down (in text, Facebook, tweeting, email, etc.) it's called libel. There are many celebrities currently suing the tabloid magazines for printing damaging rumors that were not true.

For example, the Star printed an article on Aretha Franklin claiming that she missed several concerts due to problems with alcohol. Aretha Franklin spoke out about this rumor, and she is threatening to sue the paper for $50 million because of the 'trashy and grossly untrue' article written about her.


In general, gossip can be defined as a private conversation between two people about someone else who is not around. The information they are discussing is represented as factual even though the truth may not have been confirmed. Gossip also tends to be spoken by people about someone they know, not celebrities or historical figures. Another common aspect is that the speaker assumes a morally superior attitude in body language and tone. A final common trait is that people compare themselves to the target of the gossip and find themselves better off.

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