«by HADLEY CANTRIL with the assistance of Hazel Gaudet & Herta Herzog Princeton University Press Princeton, New Jersey Published by Princeton ...»
A Study in
the Psychology of Panic
With the complete script of the
famous Orson Welles Broadcast
with the assistance of
Hazel Gaudet & Herta Herzog
Princeton University Press
Princeton, New Jersey
Published by Princeton University Press,
41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540
In the United Kingdom: Princeton University Press,
Copyright 1940 by Princeton University Press, 1966 Preface copyright © by Hadley Cantril All rights reserved FirstPrinceton Paperback printing, 1982 LCC 82-47626 ISBN 0-691-09399-7 ISBN 0-691-02827-3 pbk.
Printed in the United States of America by Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey 1966 Preface reprinted by arrangement with Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated Contents Preface (1966) Vl Preface (1940) ix I. "Incredible as it may seem" 3
THE BROADCAST(Script by Howard Koch) II. "It was something terrible" 47
THE NATURE AND EXTENT OF THE PANICIII. "It didn't sound like a play" 67
HOW THE STIMULUS WAS EXPERIENCEDIV. " We'd better do something" 87
DESCRIPTION OF REACTIONSV. "I figured" 111
CRITICAL ABILITYVI. "I'm so worried" 127
CONDITIONS INHIBITING CRITICAL ABILITYVII. "Being in a troublesome world" 153
THE HISTORICAL SETTINGVIII. "My background" 167
THE INDIVIDUAL CASEIX. "Jitters have come to roost" 189
WHY THE PANIC?Appendix A. Miscellaneous information 207 Appendix B. Interview schedule 211 Appendix C. Tables 221 223 Index
•ν· PREFACE (1966) O N HALLOWE'EN night 1938, Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre on the Air drama tized H. G. Wells' fantasy, War of the Worlds so realistically and effectively that at least a million Americans became frightened and thousands were panic-stricken. The study reported in this book was launched immediately after the broadcast and gives an account of people's reactions, indicating what ap pear to be the major psychological reasons for the mass behavior involved.
Since the publication of The Invasion from Mars in 1940,1 have often been asked whether I thought such a thing could happen again. The questioners usually imply that we are now somehow too sophisticated to be taken in by anything so fanciful. Unfortunately, I have always had to reply that of course it could hap pen again today and even on a much more extensive scale.
In this study of the most widespread panic of recent times we are not dealing just with a bit of isolated science fiction pertinent only to one particular time and place. As this little book shows, we are, on the contrary, dealing with an episode of human behavior brought about by a pattern of circumstances provid ing a matrix for high suggestibility. Such a pattern is by no means absent today, though it would now be fashioned out of new and different ingredients. Since the Hallowe'en "Boo" of 1938 we have seen the devel opment and use of atomic weapons; we know about the existence of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) and their immense destructive power. And we hear talk of satellites spinning about our tiny globe carrying atomic warheads that could be quickly guided to any target on earth. Such destructive forces against which there appears to be so little protection can only enhance the possibility of delusions that would be even more plausible than the invasion of Martians—and that would not require the combined talents of H. G. Wells and Orson Welles to set off.
A tiny glimpse of this sort of situation was seen in the blackout caused by the electric power failure in the Northeastern United States in November of 1965, when millions of people were plunged into darkness, many of them stranded in isolated places or in sub ways and elevators. While no major panic occurred, there is evidence that many of the nearly thirty mil lion people involved endured various fantasies and fears as they wondered, in the first few minutes, whether the power failure wasn't, after all, due to something like an ICBM, and that perhaps total de struction would follow hard on the disappearance of light.
However, some mitigating factors not present in 1938 may help to neutralize burgeoning fears and allay anxieties in panic situations today. Television is one such: it could hardly compete with the scenes created in the imaginations of frightened listeners, nor could it adequately picture all the conditions de scribed in the broadcast. Furthermore, the Orson Welles performance and its aftermath have instilled on the part of all major networks in the United States a deep sense of responsibility in seeing to it that such a situation does not occur again. But there are many parts of the world where such a sense of public respon sibility on the part of those in control of communica tions may not be as great, and there are vast areas where radio communications alone is relied on for news and information and where comparable modern ized scares might be perpetrated either by chance or by design.
There has been some public education in dealing with crises—learning where bomb-shelters are and the like. But the confusion and subsequent panic which might be caused by power failures, explosions, fires, eruptions and other natural disasters happening in the wake of atomic attacks are clearly to be kept upper most in mind and to be prepared for at all times by the responsible authorities.
The panic reported on in this book gave me an opportunity to study a situation which one can only hope will not be repeated in any way, shape, or form.
But it is also to be hoped that as many researchers as possible will be trained to follow up quickly and syste matically whatever disasters do occur, to study the causes of fear and panic, and to devise ever more certain methods of alleviating the fears caused and of educating people in the actions likely to meet effec tively the contingencies in the offing.
O N the evening of October 30, 1938, thousands of Americans became panic-stricken by a broadcast purported to describe an invasion of Martians which threatened our whole civilization. Prob ably never before have so many people in all walks of life and in all parts of the country become so suddenly and so intensely disturbed as they did on this night. Yet what justification is there for conducting an elaborate investigation of a panic which was, after all, ephemeral and not sufficiently important to be recorded by his torians?
There are essentially two ways to rationalize this study: one is hopefully scientific, the other frankly didactic.
Such rare occurrences are opportunities for the social scientist to study mass behavior. They must be exploited when they come. Although the social scientist unfortu nately cannot usually predict such situations and have his tools of investigation ready to analyze the phenom enon while it is still on the wing, he can begin his work before the effects of the crisis are over and memories are blurred. As far as the writer is aware, this is the first panic that has been carefully studied with the research tools now available. A complete description of this panic should, in itself, be of value to anyone interested in social problems.
Furthermore, the attempts to determine the under lying psychological causes for a widespread panic in 1938 should give us insight into the psychology of the common man and, more especially, the psychology of the man of our times. From this point of view the investigation may be regarded as more than a study of panic.
For the situation created by the broadcast was one which shows us how the common man reacts in a time of stress and strain. It gives us insights into his intelligence, his anxieties and his needs, which we could never get by tests or strictly experimental studies. The panic situ ation we have investigated had all the flavor of every day life and, at the same time, provided a semi-experi mental condition for research. Students of social psychology should find here some useful research tools.
They will see shortcomings in the methods employed and should be able to profit from mistakes which have been pointed out wherever the writer has detected them.
A more practical justification for such a study con cerns the educational implications which an under standing of this panic may have. Although citizens are not confronted every day with potentially panic-pro ducing situations, they do face social or personal crises where their good judgment is taxed to the limit. If they can see why some people reacted unintelligently in this instance, they may be able to build up their resistance to similar occurrences. And if they are ever caught in a really critical situation, the information recorded here may help them make a more satisfactory adjustment. At least it will be discovered how superficial and mislead ing is the account of one prominent social scientist who said that "as good an explanation as any for the panic is that all the intelligent people were listening to Charlie McCarthy." In spite of the unique conditions giving rise to this particular panic, the writer has attempted to indicate throughout the study the pattern of circum stances which, from a psychological point of view, might make this the prototype of any panic.
χ Localized panics are frequently reported on ship board, in congested buildings that have caught fire, or in specific areas suffering some natural catastrophe.
More widespread panics are comparatively rare. Never theless, panics such as that occurring in the United States on the evening of October 30, 1938, are by no means confined to our own country or our own times.
Panics resulting from financial crises and commercial miscalculations are probably as old as commerce itself.
Prior to the eighteenth century such panics were gen erally due to an undersupply of goods, caused by crop failures, political disturbance, or the like. In the later stages of our expanding economy, an overabundance of goods has led to successive crises and business cycles generally accompanied by widespread fears among the increasing number of publics involved.
The most similar predecessor to the panic resulting from the War of the Worlds' broadcast occurred on January 16, 1926, in England during a period of un usual labor strife and shortly before the general strike.
On that day the traditionally complacent English lis tener was startled by a description given by Father Ronald Knox (in the customary news broadcast) of an unruly unemployed mob. The mob was said to have attempted demolition of the Houses of Parliament, its trench mortars had brought Big Ben to the ground, it had hanged the Minister of Traffic to a tramway post.
The London broadcast ended with the "destruction" of the British Broadcasting Corporation's station. After the broadcast, the newspapers, police and radio stations were besieged with calls from frantic citizens. However, the panic created by Father Knox's broadcast did not cause either as widespread or as intense a fear as the Orson Welles program.
The fact that this panic was created as a result of a radio broadcast is today no mere circumstance. The im portance of radio's role in current national and inter national affairs is too well known to be recounted here.
By its very nature radio is the medium par excellence for informing all segments of a population of current happenings, for arousing in them a common sense of fear or joy and for enciting them to similar reactions directed toward a single objective. It is estimated that of the 32,000,000 families in the United States 27,500,000 have radios—a greater proportion than have telephones, automobiles, plumbing, electricity, newspapers or mag azines. Radio has inherently the characteristics of con temporaneousness, availability, personal appeal and ubiquity. Hence, when we analyze this panic, we are able to deal with the most modern type of social group —the radio audience—which differs from the congre gate group of the moving picture theatre and the consociate group reading the daily paper. The radio audience consists essentially of thousands of small, congregate groups united in time and experiencing a common stimulus—altogether making possible the larg est grouping of people ever known.
Because the social phenomenon in question was so complex, several methods were employed to seek out different answers and to compare results obtained by one method with those obtained by another. Such an ap proach seems advisable in analyzing any problem in social psychology. Otherwise, the investigator has dif ficulty in demonstrating that his assumption has not been "proved" merely because his method would give him no contradictory evidence. Furthermore, should the investigator reach no positive conclusions, he is unable to tell whether his presuppositions and theories are wrong or whether the fault lies in his method. The use of a pluralistic approach in a study such as this is par ticularly urgent since the phenomenon under considera tion was of so transient a nature. Also, so far as was known, no other extensive investigation was being in dependently conducted on the problem, thus making it impossible to check one set of data and interpretations against another.