People Aren't Just Vaccinating Due To 'Mass Formation Psychosis,' Because It's Not A Thing

Conspiracy theories
A still from Beyoncé's music video for "Formation."

I'm sorry this is all I can think about every time someone says it.

Last week, Joe Rogan bestowed a beautiful gift upon the imbeciles who listen to his podcast — an appearance from Dr. Robert Malone, a virologist who has spent much of the pandemic spreading misinformation about the COVID vaccine. Not only did Dr. Malone provide some relief to those who are tired of scientists rudely telling them things they don't want to hear, but he also claimed that everyone believing those scientists, all of their relatives who don't want to hang out with them just because they don't want to get sick, all of their friends from high school who have blocked them on social media, had simply been hypnotized into disagreeing with them.

Dr. Malone explained that all of this was a result of what Mattias Desmet, a professor at the University of Ghent in Belgium, calls Mass Formation Psychosis.

Rudely, this was not a condition brought about by listening to too much Beyoncé, but rather the very phenomenon that caused people in Germany to embrace Hitler. One which was now causing people to go around doing things to mitigate the harm of a pandemic.

Via Reuters:

Dr Robert Malone, previously fact-checked by Reuters here and here, told The Joe Rogan Experience that “mass formation psychosis” is a phenomenon that occurred in 1920s and 30s Germany when a highly educated population “went barking mad”.

“And that is what’s happened here,” he said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic (here).

According to Malone, the condition occurs when a society “becomes decoupled from each other and has a free-floating anxiety in a sense that things don’t make sense… And then their attention gets focused by a leader or series of events on one small point, just like hypnosis.”

He added: “They literally become hypnotized and can be led anywhere… They will follow that person – it doesn’t matter whether they lie to them or whatever, the data are irrelevant.”

This was a theory tailored specifically to what a very desperate group of people were very eager to hear, and they ate it right the hell up.

Tweet reading 'To be compliant is to be complicit,' with meme featuring a Howard Zinn quote "Historically, the most terrible things - war, genocide and slavery - have resulted not from disobedience but obedience"Big fan of this guy who definitely knows who Howard Zinn is.

Meme of masked 'NPC crowd' reading I am fully vaccinated and boosted, and just tested positive for COVID-19.  I am grateful for the protection my vaccines continue to provideBecause there's literally no difference from having very mild symptoms and having a very serious illness and maybe dying of that very serious illness.

Of course, like most things this particular group believes, and most pop psychology ideas that feel like extremely satisfying explanations of human behavior ... mass formation psychosis is not a real thing. It's not a real term used in psychology, it's an idea promoted by pretty much just that one guy.

Reuters was, in fact, unable to find any psychologists who had even heard of the term, with many explaining that these "mass psychosis" and "crowd psychology" theories were a tad reductionist and had been discredited in favor of more modern theories about how groups operate.

Reuters also spoke to Steven Reicher, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of St Andrews, who has studied crowd psychology for more than 40 years. He described the concept of a “mass psychosis” as “more metaphor than science, more ideology than fact”.

“It arises out of mass society theories and crowd psychology theories which developed in the 19th century, and which reflected a fear of the masses,” he said. “The claim was that people in the mass lose their sense of identity and their ability to reason, they regress to an inferior mental state where they are manipulable by unscrupulous leaders.

“It has been totally discredited by contemporary work on groups and crowds.”

Van Bavel, who said he found the idea of mass formation psychosis “reductionist”, highlighted a different account of the role of psychology, groups and leadership in the rise of Naziism (here).

There is something about this kind of narrative that human beings find very satisfying, particularly when it is applied to people who disagree with them. And everyone loves a narrative about how the people who disagree with them are just like the people in 1930s Germany. Though the comparison does tend to go a lot more smoothly when those people are literally going around spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and worshiping a politician as a God.

People love to talk about members of the People's Temple all "drinking the Kool-Aid" because they were all brainwashed idiots who would do anything Jim Jones told them to do — they're less keen on the part of that story in which many of those people were literally held at gunpoint and forced to drink poisoned Flavor-Aid.

This is not to say that people can't be manipulated on a mass scale, because they absolutely can be — most frequently by those who are telling them the story they want to hear about themselves. Like Joe Rogan and Dr. Malone. On a small scale, that's how you market things to people. On a larger scale it's how you get people to believe some pretty ridiculous and/or terrible things.

This is why it's generally a good idea to be skeptical of things that make us feel a little too satisfying, a little too good, especially when it concerns those we have gone a little bitch eating crackers on.

Once you hate someone, everything they do is offensive. "Look at this bitch eating crackers like she owns the place."

This isn't always the case, but it is what must separate us from the geniuses who go and make 12,000 "mass formation psychosis" memes after hearing one guy talk about it once on some other guy's podcast.

Stephen and I will be back at 3pm EST, 12pm Pacific for our weekly live stream, so come and hang out with us then.


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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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