, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 297-309

An investigation of apparent mass psychogenic illness in an electronics plant

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An investigation of a case of apparent mass psychogenic illness was undertaken in a midwestern electronics assembly plant. The plant employed 500 workers, of whom 80% were female. The illness outbreak involved a total of 90 female first shift workers who reported a variety of nonspecific symptoms such as headache, dizziness, and lightheadedness in response to a strange odor in the workplace. Although environmental testing revealed some localized concentrations of a few airbone contaminants, no environmental toxins were discovered that could account for the continuing outbreaks of illness. An ad hocsample of affected and nonaffected workers was surveyed to assess the influence of psychological, sociological, and work environment factors in the outbreak. Analysis of the data revealed that affected workers reported more physical discomfort (temperature, variations, poor lighting) in the workplace as well as psychological job stress (increase in workload, conflicts with supervisors) than did nonaffected workers. Moreover, affected workers scored significantly higher than nonaffected workers on personality tests measuring extraversion and hysteria traits.