The strange new world of 1600s America made it easy for European colonists to become positively terrified of their unfamiliar surroundings and lifestyle. When they didn’t understand what was happening, or were beset with particularly awful circumstances, they’d often blame their fate on devils or witches. In a small Massachusetts village, this scapegoating ballooned into the deadly Salem Witch Trials. Historians were never sure how this social hysteria happened, but new evidence might finally provide an explanation.

There’s no denying that accused witches were behaving strangely. One major theory holds that conversion disorder — an illness characterized by odd physical symptoms like blindness or paralysis that have a mental origin — was responsible. Such a condition might’ve caused uncontrollable movement in Salem residents.

20th Century Fox