The Problem of Panic (1955)


The Problem of Panic (Federal Civil Defense Administration Technical Bulletin, No. TB-19-2; Washington, D. C., June, 1955: SuDoc FCD 1.3:19-2) is a “statement prepared at the request of the Federal Civil Defense Administration by a subcommittee of the Committee on Disaster Studies, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences…”

The publication is a survey of the existing literature on the psychology of mass panic and disaster replete with a great bibliography; the doc also emphasizes the significance of information in decisionmaking and in modifying behavior during a state of crisis (p.2). Surprisingly,The Problem of Panic is a remarkably optimistic statement on the American public’s collective response to a potential disaster.

The “subcommittee of the Committee on Disaster Studies” determined that “panic or mass hysteria” resulting from an enemy attack “occurs rarely,” panic states “are usually of short duration,” and “excited and irrational behavior can usually be prevented or quickly brought to a stop if effective leadership and realistic information is provided” (p.1).

Now for the optimism:

There’s every reason to believe that, rather than panic, the dominant reaction of the American people will continue to be an energetic, adaptive response to whatever threats and dangers they face.

The Problem of Panic is here.