Psychology Division Divisional Memoranda #13 – All The Ways to Cause Panic


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This CIA declassified document concerning OSS activities was recovered from the internet archive. It document was declassified in 2004.

This document is titled: Psychology Division Divisional Memoranda #13 – Panic in War situations

It is from: N/A to N/A



Document details

DATE: 13 February 1942


NAMES (or titles) mentioned:



Interesting points from documents –


Check out this outline for Section III –

III. Conditions Favoring Panic And Measures For Its Prevention.

A. Fantasy
B. Unknown Nature of The Threat
C. Loss of a Familiar Background
D. Passivity
E. Uncertainty and Loss of Confidence
F . Accumulated Tension
G. Suggestion

Wow. That’s a pretty fucked up mind that wants to cause these. Can’t wait to see what they say because you gotta wonder about point D: Passivity. What the heck is that about?

The doc starts out saying that prevention consists of removal of the causes…um. Ya think? I know, I’m just playin’, but still, it made me laugh that you even have to say that. The full sentence actually says:

The removal of the causes through education and training in specific reactions to panic producing situations; through the elimination of opportunities for fantasy to be operative; and the minimization of the group situations in which panic thrives.

From the introduction, we get this “psychical contagion” idea being presented. (scientologists take note, another idea that did not originate with L. Ron Hubbard).

Earthquake, fire, flood, disease, and now disaster from the air, have been more effective than they deserve in their destructive achievement because the behavior of man can be rendered utterly inadequate by fear, and because he is susceptible to “psychical contagion.”

In describing the Panic Reaction section –

Panic is essentially fear, pathological fear; but fear of an unknown, and usually imagined, danger. It is fear for which there is no ready outlet, either because the immediate environmental circumstances prevent action, or because there is no adequate adjustment available in the individual’ s repertoire of behavior.

Panic describes behavior which usually displays: (1) uncontrolled, aimless movements — sometimes of enormous strength; (2) a kind of paralysis of the intellectual processes – – one “loses his head;” and (3) a loss of all social sense — although still a member of the crowd physically, one acts as an individual. Sometimes, to be sure, the fear manifests itself in complete inactivity, equally uncontrolled and aimless. Such states of immobilization, however, in order to distinguish them from the excessive activity more usually conceived as panic, should perhaps be labelled “terror.”

…the individual is incapacitated so far as any rational, usefully directed endeavor is concerned. He offers no resistance to enemy attack, whatever its source, indeed, his acts may even aid it.

…In the case of the panic reaction a stimulus perhaps a noise , a flash, the sight of another’s face, the sound or another’s voice – is, in the absence of any ready appeal to objective fact, elaborated by the individuals reservoir of fantasies into a “nameless horror. “

…When a danger is real and known, activity is directed toward escaping it, and therefore tends to be confined within specific and relatively familiar channels; but when the peril is unknown, fantasy is free to conjure all manner of threats, and activity is directed toward escaping the victim knows not what. Such is the essence of the overt behavior in panic, whether it be in the face of fire or flood or earthquake or air-raid or financial ruin. Self-preservation “raw and unrefined” becomes the controlling motive, and in the search tor security any item of the environment may be converted into an object of avoidance or aggression. For the individual in panic, any sight or sound may serve to initiate or change the course of his aimless activity. To customary controls he does not respond.

Physical –

…the visceral reactions are severe-greatly accelerated heart, raised blood pressure, increased respiratory activity, the release of large stores of sugar and great quantities of adrenalin into the bloodstream. The drain on the resources of the organism is tremendous, and once the panic subsides exhaustion is the inevitable consequence.

This is interesting –

To describe panic as a response to danger is very misleading, tor it intimates a casual significance in the external danger which is quite erroneous. When the threat of danger evokes panic instead of ”normal” fear or anxiety, it is not likely to be because the external danger has acquired any new or special features , but rather because the individual himself has altered. The external danger serves only to release behavior for which a complex of internal factors has created the predisposition.

Ergo, if the individual does NOT “alter” = no panic.

It has been emphasized that panic is less likely to occur in response to the threat of a real danger than an imagined one. To the problem of a real and known peril the individual may react by conscious direct attack. For the dangers created in his imagination he has no ready response, and so reacts by a confusion of exaggerated, instinctive, chaotic movements. The essential and fundamental cause of the panic,  then, lies in the imagined dangers which the fantasies of the victim fabricate.

This part is really loaded, do take careful note.

Since fantasy appears to be the exciting cause of panic, then anything which permits or facilitates the exercise of the imaginal processes must be looked upon as contributing to its rise, and any measures which remove or reduce the opportunities for the imagination to transport the individual from the level of objective reality to the level of fantasy will contribute to its prevention.

Ok, so that’s the number 1 thing they’re going for to create panic, is getting YOU to imagine things. Then the document goes into the ways to get you to fantasize.

Like –

The unknown nature of the threat.

Perhaps the most obvious factor facilitating fantasy is the element of the unknown…The ominous aura of the unknown perhaps accounts for the fact that sounds seem to be so much more effective than visual stimuli in exciting alarm.

Loss of familiar background

A second factor which may facilitate the rise of fantasy, and so precipitate panic, is the absence or loss of familiarity in the background or setting in which the threat must be faced.

Isolation, either physical or social, must be avoided

Under passivity, it explains that this is referring to when someone can’t do anything physically, then they start to imagine things. So now we know what that meant.

If he is exposed to the threat of a danger which is unseen and uncertain, to escape from which he can do nothing, his imaginal processes begin to function, and the product of their operation may be fantastic exaggeration of the threat. If  pronounced emotional reinforcement ensues, panic may be the result…Passivity can be as harassing as the menace of immediate danger.

…An Official British observer of the air-Blitz affect upon Coventry and Plymouth expresses the opinion that for untrained, inexperienced civilians, whose normal codes and standards of behavior are no longer possible, to be left to their own devices, uncertain even as to what they might be supposed to do, is one of the best ways of creating upset.

…Langdon-Davies stresses the fact that whenever you have a crowd of people with nothing to do but wait, subject to discomfort and possible danger, you have the likelihood of panic.

The individual must have a role to play, a job to do, in any situation which the threat of danger may create.

And the fourth source to get “fantasy” going and create panic – uncertainty and loss of confidence.

Predisposition to panic arises from the haunting uncertainty which may follow upon the collapse of one’s trust in some form of omnipotence.

In time of war, and particularly when the threat of danger looms most immediate, there must be complete solidarity of conviction and motive between

…the role of omnipotence must be avoided unless the obligations can be fulfilled.

And if they can and are being fulfilled? For real? Well then. Down goes the possibility of getting the person to fantasize and therefore produce their own panic.

When the luck charm upon which we have been led to depend fails repeatedly to work, we are left helpless and ready to allow any impulse which arises.

Ergo, if it doesn’t fail, no helplessness. Very few things or people can stand up to that particular test. I happen to know one or two.

And a warning that seems particularly appropriate right now –

The fabrication of unwarranted confidence and dependence is perilous.

Yep. It’s perilous all right. Some people are just starting to figure that out. House of cards and all that.

Then there’s this interesting “fantasy” causer –

Accumulated tension from fatigue, noise, etc.

The methods sound awfully “Guantanamo” to me.

…Rather is it a climactic reaction, terminating a more or less prolonged period of tension. Its antecedents, therefore, lie in those psychophysiological factors which contribute the substratum of “nervous tension.” Of these, excessive fatigue, sleeplessness, exposure to harrowing experiences, continuous noise, are the most effective, particularly when they are accompanied by no opportunity for action.

The physiologist can attest to the strain put on the heart and arteries by repeated loud and sudden noises .

This is weird – what study? Sounds really creepy!

A recent experimental study of panic indicated that a group more frustrated in an immediately preceding situation manifested more tendency toward panic in a subsequent fear-situation than a less frustrated group.

The importance of what may seem to be relatively minor physical and psychological factors in adding to the accumulated “nervous” strain must not be underestimated. Not only is it imperative that measures be instituted to avoid excessive fatigue and the loss of sleep, but every device conceivable should be utilized to arrest and release the rising tide of tension.

The document talks about noise some more, then it gets to the final point – Suggestion in the form of:

man’ s susceptibility to “psychical contagion.” Everyone has observed “fits” of coughing or laughing spread through a theatre audience; the contagious quality of gazing into the sky from the streetcorner is exploited by every practical joker.

However –

The potency of mass suggestion and the infectious nature of fear must not be ignored.

Nevertheless, like all infection its malignancy is dependent upon the susceptibility of the material it attacks. The impression which is prevalent in some quarters that the cry of “Fire! in the darkened hall instantly transforms each member of the audience into a panic-stricken organism is quite erroneous.

…there remains a third group in whom the panic reaction does not develop. …exert an influence upon the crowd which restrains it and returns it to reason. In other words, “psychical contagion” may operate against, as well as for the rise of panic.

There is no “panic type”.

Other than the factor of physical health, there is only one satisfactory criterion for differentiating individuals in terms of their proneness to develop the panic reaction, and that is their manner of behaving in the past. There is no “panic type.”

At the end, we see again this “surprise” about that their bombing tactics didn’t incite the Germans, etc. to “panic”. That really affected them to find that out. (See this OSS document for more info, the “people” section, “strategic bombing survey” – also this OSS document on same topic)

but the very fact that the bombing of civilians has proved not to be a wholly successful strategy of terror indicates, among other things, that resistance to panic can be achieved.


Other Images and People.



Images and PDF files


For those who don’t know – OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition and when that is done on images, it makes it so you can search the images for certain words or phrases that you are looking for.

Here is an OCR’d PDF file of all the pages of this document.

PDFPsychology Division Divisional Memoranda #13 – All The Ways to Cause Panic

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