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An investigation of apparent mass psychogenic illness in an electronics plant.

Colligan-MJ; Urtes-MA; Wisseman-C; Rosensteel-RE; Anania-TL; Hornung-RW
J Behav Med 1979 Sep; 2(3):297-309
An apparent case of mass psychogenic illness in an electronics assembly facility (SIC-3679) was investigated. Of the 400 female and 100 male employees, 65 percent were dayshift workers and the remainder were on the night shift. On three separate occasions within 1 week, a total of 93 cases involving symptoms of headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness and lightheadedness were reported by 50 female dayshift workers. Initial results of environmental testing and medical examinations did not identify any toxic agent capable of producing the observed symptoms. A questionnaire designed to measure various aspects of job and life stress was distributed to 150 affected and nonaffected female dayshift workers. Additional environmental sampling and medical evaluations were conducted. Affected workers were experiencing considerable job stress and concomitant strain compared to nonaffected workers, and also reported more discomfort from both physical and social psychological stressor. Affected workers scored higher on the hysteria and depression scale tests and lower on the extraversion scale of the personality inventory tests compared to the nonaffected workers. Fifteen days of environmental sampling indicated that localized concentrations of contaminants varied on successive days, but never exceeded recommended limits. Medical evaluations produced little useful information. The authors conclude that personality characteristics of the affected workers were a factor in predisposing them to the spread of illness throughout the work area. Affected workers were also more inclined to somatize psychological distress.
NIOSH-Author; Industrial-factory-workers; Clinical-symptoms; Workplace-studies; Shift-workers; Physical-stress; Psychological-stress; Psychological-testing; Air-contamination; Health-surveys; Mental-processes
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Journal of Behavioral Medicine