IELTSDATA READING PASSAGE 69-Scratching the Surface.
They are insidious skin parasites, infesting the occupants of factories and offices. They cause itching, prickling and crawling sensations in the skin that are almost untreatable. These creatures may only exist in the mind, but their effects are real and infectious.
The classic case occurred in a US laboratory in I966. After the new equipment was installed, workers started to suffer from itching and sensations of insects crawling over them. Complaints multiplied and the problem, attributed to ‘cable mites’, started to spread to relatives of the victims. A concerted effort was made to exterminate the mites using everything from DDT and mothballs to insecticide and rat poison.
Nothing worked. The thorough examination by scientific investigators could not locate any pests or even signs of actual parasite attacks. However, they did find small particles of Rockwool insulation in the air, which could cause skin irritation. A cleaning programme was introduced and the staff was assured the problem had been solved. The cable mite infestation disappeared.
Another l960s case occurred in a textile factory, where workers complained of being bitten by insects brought into the factory in imported cloth. Dermatitis swept through the workforce, but it followed a curious pattern. Instead of affecting people in one particular part of the factory, the bugs seemed to be transmitted through employees’ social groups. No parasites could be found.
A third infestation spread through office staff going through dusty records that had lain untouched for decades. They attributed their skin problems to ‘paper mites’, but the cause was traced to irritation from paper splinters.
These are all cases of illusions of parasitosis, where something in the environment is misinterpreted as an insect or another pest. Everyone has heard of delirium tremens when alcoholics or amphetamine users experience the feeling of insects crawling over their skin, but other factors can cause the same illusion. Static electricity, dust, fibers, and chemical solvents can all give rise to imaginary insects. The interesting thing is that they spread. The infectious nature of this illusion seems to be a type of reflex contagion. Yawn and others start yawning. If everyone around you laughs, you laugh. Start scratching, and colleagues will scratch, too.
* Dr. Paul Marsden is managing editor of the Journal of Memetics, the study of infectious ideas. He suggests that this type of group behavior may have had a role to play in human evolution. In our distant past, one individual scratching would have alerted others that there were biting insects or parasites present. This would prime them to scratch itches of their own. Anyone who has been bitten several times by mosquitoes before they realized it will recognize the evolutionary value of this kind of advance warning. The outbreak of mass scratching may also promote mutual grooming, which is important in the necessary bonding of primate groups.
The problem comes when the reflex contagion is not related to a real threat. Normally, everyone would soon stop scratching, but people may unconsciously exaggerate symptoms to gain attention, or because it gets them a break from unappealing work. The lab workers were scanners, who spent the day laboriously examining the results of bubble-chamber tests; textile workers and clerical staff poring over records would also have found what they had to do quite tedious. Add the factor that skin conditions are notoriously susceptible to psychological influence, and it is easy to see how a group dynamic can keep the illusory parasites going.
Treatment of the condition is difficult since few will accept that their misreading of the symptoms is the result of what psychologists call a hysterical condition. In the past, the combination of removal of irritants and expert reassurance was enough. However, these days, there is a mistrust of conventional medicine and easier access to support groups. Sufferers can reinforce each other’s illusions over the Internet, swapping tales of elusive mites that baffle science. This could give rise to an epidemic of mystery parasites, spreading from mind to mind like a kind of super virus. Only an awareness of the power of the illusion can stop it. You can stop scratching now.
Classify statements 1-5 according to whether they apply to
A. the laboratory
B. the factory
C. the office
1. Workers who met each other socially suffered from the condition.
2. The victims were all working with old documents.
3. They tried to kill the insects they thought were responsible.
4. They said the creatures had come in material from abroad.
5. Employees’ families were affected by the condition.
Complete the notes below. Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer
Evolutionary purpose theory
Benefit to group
In the presence of pets
Benefit to group
Do the following statements agree with the writer’s views in Reading Passage 1? Write
TRUE if the statement is true according to the passage
FALSE if the statement is false according to the passage
NOT GIVEN if the statement is not given in the passage
9. Some keep scratching because they know it will enable them to stop work.
10. The laboratory, factory and office employees all had boring jobs.
11. The human skin is extremely sensitive to irritants.
12. In many cases, people no longer believe what medical professionals say.
13. It is impossible to prevent the condition becoming an Internet epidemic.
From the list below choose the most suitable alternative title for Reading Passage 1.
A. The benefits of itching and scratching
B. Increasing complaints about insects
C. Scratching, yawning and laughing
D. Imaginary bites and parasites
E. Computer bites and Internet itches
1 . B
2 . C
3 . A
4 . B
5 . A
6 . INDIVIDUAL SCRATCHING
7 . ALERTED OTHERS
8 . BONDING
9 . F
10 . T
11 . NG
12 . T
13 . F
14 . D
IELTSDATA READING PASSAGE 69-Scratching the Surface IELTSDATA READING PASSAGE 69-Scratching the Surface IELTSDATA READING PASSAGE 69-Scratching the Surface IELTSDATA READING PASSAGE 69-Scratching the Surface IELTSDATA READING PASSAGE 69-Scratching the Surface