Hysteria and the Villejuif Leaflet

The Villejuif Leaflet, which was sent out far and wide in Europe, was a list. On the list was a bunch of substances one commonly finds in food. These substances were listed as carcinogens. In defense of whoever made the list, many of them were potentially harmful. However, citric acid was on the list, and it is decidedly safe.

The Villejuif Leaflet was named thus because it was reportedly sent out by a hospital in Villejuif, France, but this turned out to be false. Nonetheless, the leaflet's origins were most certainly in France, though the precise location and distributor have never been discovered. It first appeared in 1976 as one page that was put together on a typewriter.

What is bizarre about the Villejuif Leaflet is not that it contained misinformation. This is common. What is bizarre is that it made enough rounds to reach roughly 7 million people, many of whom became very scared. It caused mass hysteria that lasted for years.

Bizarre Experiments: The Broken Toy Experiment

Often cited as a cruel psychological experiment, the Broken Toy Experiment was designed to produce guilt in children who had done nothing wrong. The children were left to stew in their negative emotions so researchers could study their reactions. This was meant to show them meaningful things about moral awareness and feelings. Yes, it might have, but it reeks of being unnecessary, given that parents of children of any age can tell how, when, where and why guilt manifests in children.

In this test, the children were given a "special" toy to play with. They were told to be careful with the toy. It was also rigged to fall apart when they touched it. The adults said nothing of the fact that the toy was a trap and just watched the kids for a full minute before finally leaving and coming back with the same toy, but not broken. To be fair, the children were then told that it was not their fault and they did not seem traumatized. Nonetheless, one has to wonder who they got to sit there all stoically while the kids squirmed. Darth Vader perhaps?

In the end, this is not the kind of experiment that will go down in history as evil. It was just a bit mean, and some of the kids probably do not even remember it. Then again, there is no long-term damage if you steal candy from a toddler and make it cry, but that does not mean psychologists should do it just to take notes on how the kid reacts in order to ostensibly collect meaningful data on the tears of children.