Follow TV Tropes


Mind Virus

Go To

This trope is for viruses of the mind. They spread the same way as any other normal virus, either through exposure to someone who's already infected or through some airborne particulate. However, unlike normal viruses, they primarily don't cause any physical symptoms. Instead, the virus will alter the way its victims think.

Mind Viruses can vary in terms of their effects and their severity. Minor cases might simply give the victims weird dreams, or give them a slight compulsion to do something (though this compulsion can be ignored with enough willpower). More severe Mind Viruses can do everything from alter or completely erase memories, alter one's personality, or even completely destroy someone's mind, leaving them an Empty Shell.

Mind Viruses usually don't have anything to do with brainwashing or mind control. A nefarious agency may have developed and released the virus, but after that the virus is uncontrolled, spreading from one person to the next in an unpredictable manner. Rather, a deliberate Mind Virus may be used as a weapon, intended strictly to disrupt. Alternatively, it might have started off with good intentions but ended up mutating and spreading out of control.

This is a trope usually found in Science Fiction, though not necessarily limited to it. In nearly all cases it's a Synthetic Plague. A specific version of this would be a Hate Plague.

Compare with Ear Worm, where it's a song that can't get out of your head; Infectious Insanity, a trope where mental illnesses are treated like a Mind Virus; Memetic Mutation, and Brown Note. Compare and contrast The Virus, where a contagion acts as an intelligent, self-directed entity (adding to "itself", having a Hive Mind, etc.). Science-Related Memetic Disorder is sometimes — but not always — caused by one of these. Also see Puppeteer Parasite.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • The Authority:
    • One issue has Apollo and Midnighter teaming up with alternate-universe versions of themselves to stop a killer meme: anyone who hears it whispers it to the first person they see and then commit suicide. They have to stop the meme from making its way to a TV studio, where it would be spoken on a live broadcast. The solution is to subject it to Executive Meddling, which renders it harmless.
    • The Godhead arc features a villain with the power to turn people into his slaves.
  • In Batman (Grant Morrison), the villains try to release a meme virus into the population of Gotham which will give everybody a predisposition to addiction, thus causing chaos.
  • Deadpool: The mutant assassin Black Swan's telepathic abilities specifically revolve around making these, described like computer viruses in function. He can implant a virus that slowly wipes memories and skills from victims' minds, ultimately leaving them brain-dead if not invalid.
  • Judge Dredd: The denizens of the evil dimension of Deadworld have once used Judge Anderson's mind to spread a psychic virus called Half-Life into Mega-City One, which caused widespread chaos as people spontaneously became either homicidal and suicidal (or both).
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: This comes up in a section of The Black Dossier, in which a descendant of Fu Manchu tried to release an (ancient Aztec) linguistic virus into a Massachusetts spaghetti restaurant to perpetuate a feud between his family and Professor Moriarty's. Makes far, far less sense in context.
  • In Planetary, the Big Bad's power is seemingly that his mind expands and 'infects' other minds near himself, causing them to start to think the same way and become, well, him. It ends up becoming an Informed Ability because we never see him use it.
  • Transmetropolitan alludes to things like this at times, although details for how they work are never given. An "Autocannibalism Meme" is mentioned as one point, for instance.
  • In the twelve-issue monthly Wolverine: The Best There Is, the arc villain is a Plaguemaster named Contagion who is attempting to engineer new diseases to destroy literally everything. When confronted by the X-Men, he fends off Emma Frost by making his thoughts infectious, which is described as killing hers to make room for themselves.
  • One X-Men story during an arc in which the X-Men are fighting vampires deals with their human allies quarantining and attempting to cure a group of humans infected with one by a vampire that makes them want to be drained by him. They are consciously aware of their condition, but will physically act to achieve it, all the while voicing praise. It takes the X-Men discovering that it's mental for them to gain the help of a resident telepath to make any progress.

    Fan Works 
  • Hellish influence works this way in Exitium Eternal. The crew of the Silverthread become infected when they probe the portal to Hell, kill each other mostly off, and then members of the investigatory mission begin succumbing as well.
  • Lulu's Bizarre Rebellion: The stand Hey Jude acts as this, inflicting Mental Time Travel on anyone effected. Give in to the temptation to change something you know will happen, and you become a new user/carrier of the stand.
  • In This Bites!, it's stated that the reason for the crew's out-of-character moments on the Secret Island, leading to their bonds fracturing, is all due to Lily Carnation's spores — and the more human someone is, the more they are susceptible to it. The only ones not as affected were Luffy, Conis, Soundbite, and Robin, one of whom is a Skypiean and the others being Devil Fruit users. Chopper, Boss, and the TDWS's reactions are not shown due to them being off-camera, and the latter five had already been caught by Lily Carnation.

  • The Crazies (1973) centers around an outbreak of the Trixie Virus, a bioweapon that is spread via the water and affects its victims' minds. Most of them turn homicidal and without empathy while others simply begin to act odd, but they otherwise retain their personalities and intelligence. Most of the terror of the movie involve how it's impossible to tell if someone is infected just by a glance, and the military's poor and violent handling of the outbreak. The remake involves the virus as well, though in this version it does cause physical changes as well in late stages of the infection like mis-colored eyes and swollen visible blue veins.
  • In Pontypool, the English language becomes infected with a virus that drives English-speakers crazy.

  • John Barnes's Candle portrays the near-total success of one such virus, with only one remaining human being in the world who isn't infected. He has a different virus instead.
  • In "Carrier" by Robert Sheckley, everyone on Earth learns to levitate. However, if they ever doubt their ability to levitate, they lose it. Additionally, if one person sees another who is unable to levitate, it automatically plants doubt into their minds as well, in effect becoming a fast-spreading virus.
  • Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds has an "Amusica" virus that causes its victims to be unable to appreciate music (released as a demoralizing tool in a war).
  • The protagonist of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time fantasizes of a virus ("like a computer virus") that spreads by people looking each other in the face. He is heavily autistic, and thus would survive such an epidemic.
  • The Dresden Files has Nemesis, a mental plague that warps its victims to the service of the Outsiders. Dropped hints suggest that nearly every villain Dresden encounters may have been influenced by Nemesis. Horrifyingly, Nemesis is so insidious that even those infected don't know about it, thinking that their actions are their own.
  • Genocidal Organ involves the hunt for an American linguist called John Paul who has discovered a language of genocide. John Paul appears in Third-World countries, translates the language into a local dialect (to limit its effect so it won't spread worldwide), and six months later, the country implodes into ethnic conflict.
  • In Glasshouse, a virus called "Curious Yellow" has infected nearly all humans via the ubiquitous and necessary Warp Gates that everyone uses to get around. It deleted memories of a recent war, giving pretty much everyone amnesia of that specific time period. Furthermore, it also deleted the memories of who released it and its full extent, meaning that nobody knows what else it might've done (or still be doing).
  • In one Homer Price story, the town gets infected with a song. A mysterious stranger comes to town and puts a record in the donut shop's jukebox, telling Homer and his friend not to play it. Of course they do, and they can't stop singing the song. They teach the song to others, who can't stop, and so on. Homer finally cures himself and the town by learning a different song (from a Mark Twain story), which makes them forget the first song, and once you pass that song on you forget it in turn. They send the one person infected with the new song out of town (she was going on vacation anyway) where they hope she'll teach it to someone else.
  • "Hostess" suggests that humans die of old age because they're infected by a parasite that exists in their mind (it having adapted to not even needing a body). By the end, it's indicated that many of humanity's unusual traits are caused by the existence of the parasite.
  • Though the "culling song" in Lullaby starts out as a lethal Brown Note, it eventually turns out that merely thinking about it can telepathically transmit it to someone else, making it a lethal Mind Virus.
  • Master of Space and Time by Rudy Rucker has a section where the heroes visit an alternate dimension full of "meme viruses". One of the characters is bitten by a "Jesus Lizard" and subsequently starts gaining messiah-like characteristics, along with growing out his hair and beard and wearing sandals all the time.
  • Paprika: The deranged parade featured prominently in the second half is essentially a virus that invades people's dreams, driving the victims utterly insane. In the climax, the parade breaks into the real world, transforming Tokyo into a World Gone Mad and the population into raving lunatics.
  • Plague Year Series: The third book, Plague Zone, features a mind virus that turns its victims into mindless husks that wander around, attempting to spread the virus to others (through airborne contact). They're not violent or anything, but insistent, shambling about like living zombies that don't eat or attack.
  • In Kathleen Ann Goonan's Queen City Jazz, part of her Nanotech Quartet series, a nanotech apocalypse sweeps across the world. There are several nanotech mind viruses going around, such as a virus that compels its user to go to one of several glowing spheres that have cropped up around the country. Further, the main character in Mississipi Blues is infected with a virus that compels her to abandon her old life and go rafting down the Mississippi river a la Huckleberry Finn.
  • Rainbows End has the YGBM ("You Gotta Believe Me") virus, the hunt for which is a major plot of the book.
  • The Revelation Space Series novel Chasm City has a communicable virus that inflicts its victims with the memories of a religious cult leader, giving them dreams of his life and causing stigmata to appear on their body.
  • The Rifters Trilogy features several mind viruses, most notably "GuiltTrip", which forces its victims to always do "good" things (and severely punishes them, through pain or death, for failing to do so). A government agency purposefully infects its employees with GuiltTrip, reasoning that by doing so they do not have to worry about security anymore, since nobody would dare attempt to subvert or steal anything.
  • The 10th Sigma Force novel, The 6th Extinction, uses a Mind Virus as half of the villain's plot. A scientist creates a virus which destroys human's higher brain functions, reverting them to primitive animalistic behavior. At the same time, he genetically engineers newer, more violent animals. When both are released into the world, the now weak defenseless primitive humans will be easily picked off — letting "nature" take the planet back. Why bother with the virus? He didn't want his hands to be personally bloody with humanity's extinction, instead just rendering them without tools or reasoning and letting the animals do the job.
  • Snow Crash features a "biolinguistic virus" that renders its victims unable to communicate normally; anytime they try to talk, they just speak gibberish. It's actually a "metavirus". It has ways of converting between any format: malware, biological, neurological, linguistic... It's a wonder it could be stopped at all.
  • In Those That Wake, this is how Man in Suit propagates himself.
  • Neil Gaiman's poem Virus is an example of this, spread via a computer game.
  • Greg Bear's novel Vitals features bio-engineered viruses that manipulate their victims' hormones and brain chemistry. Though the viruses themselves are undirected, the evil government conspiracy will "dose" people with different strains of the virus, in combination with setting up fake evidence, in order to discredit anyone who threatens to expose the conspiracy. One character, an investigative author who starts getting too close to the truth, is infected with a compulsive anti-Semitism virus that causes him to lose his reputation. Later on, another character is made to murder by use of a Hate Plague. The main character is also infected with a kind of "love" virus that renders him dopey and lovey-dovey with respect to a woman who's an agent of the conspiracy.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Rather than having a single Joker, Gotham portrays Batman's future nemesis as more of a contagious idea that infects numerous mentally unstable Gothamites. Jerome Valeska was its "patient zero", and he passes it on to his twin Jeremiah and to hundreds of followers and "fans" of his rampages.
  • The Sickness in Lost, which is how The Man in Black recruits people to his side.
  • The Outer Limits (1995):
    • In "Manifest Destiny", the UFS Mercury receives a Distress Call from the UFS Rhesos and sends over a Boarding Party. They discover strange writing in blood on the Rhesos bulkheads. The only surviving crew member is its captain, Milus O'Brien, who killed all of the others and jettisoned their bodies in space. The Mercury medical officer Dr. Will Olsten eventually determines that both the Rhesos crew and his ship's boarding party have been infected with a bioelectrical virus, which causes insanity, in revenge for the Rhesos wiping out the indigenous population of Trion. The so-called virus, which is in actuality the combined consciousness of the Trions, is spread by electrical currents. The episode ends with another ship observing Olsten's record and the revelation that they have already sent a copy of it to Earth, where it will infect the entire population.
    • In "Nest", the people working at the Peary University Research Station in the Arctic are infested with polar mites which cause them to go insane, eventually leading to their deaths.
  • The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Flashback" features a virus in the form of a fake memory which spreads through mental contact.
  • Taken: In "High Hopes", the implant removed from Russell Keys' frontal lobe causes the surgical team and the MPs standing guard to go insane within seconds of being exposed to it. They immediately start killing each other.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Need to Know", the government agent Edward Sayers is sent to the small town of Loma Valley, Washington to investigate a mysterious outbreak of insanity. With the help of a local woman named Amanda Strickland, he determines that the insanity is spread from person to person like a contagion. He manages to track the contagion to its source: Professor Jeffrey Potts, who has recently returned from Asia. While there, Potts learned the meaning of life. He told his brother Andrew, who was unable to keep it to himself. The meaning of life is seemingly an Awful Truth which causes anyone who learns it to immediately go insane.

  • Arena's Contagion concept album is about an apocalyptic psychic Hate Plague called the "blue fire" (or the Salamander Virus, in an accompanying short story). The protagonist is a Typhoid Mary who accidentally unleashes it on the world after foreseeing it, possibly even catching it from his foresight.
  • The Abney Park song "Virus":
    It feeds on the souls of the living.
    And gets inside their minds.
    Transforms their brains and their longings,
    No consciousness it will find.

    It feeds on their fears and emotions,
    As it has for 2000 years
    It infected the Hindus, infected the Buddhists,
    Kept them all in tears.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mind Seed is a particularly nasty high-level psionic power in Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition. It essentially transplants a copy of your own mind into the mind of a target, so that over the course of a week their thought patterns slowly transform into an exact mental duplicate of yourself at the time of implantation, including your personality and memories. Unscrupulous psionicists, including members of the Dreaming Dark organization in the Eberron setting, can use this to create spy networks of people who remain physically unchanged while having been turned into mental copies of the ringleader. Though it should be noted that while the mind seeds will share the same goals and (lack of) morality as the psionicist, they are not under the psionicist's mental control, which means it's possible for them to become The Starscream. Also, a mind seed loses the memories and skills of the original owner of their body, so to impersonate them they will have to re-learn those things or be good at bluffing. Fortunately, if a mind seed is detected before it takes over at the end of the week of implantation, another psionicist can remove it.
  • Some forms of the Exsurgent virus in Eclipse Phase simply alter how the victim thinks and/or add Psychic Powers, turning them into an unwitting pawn of the TITANS.
  • In Paranoia, rumor has it that Viral Thought Patterns are behind Communism, Gamma Clearance, and Computer knows what else. (Rumors are treason. Report all rumors.)

    Video Games 
  • Age of Wonders: Planetfall: The Synthesis secret technology is themed around Rule of Cool Hollywood Hacking. Each faction's hackers have a special power fitting their faction's strengths; for the innately psionic Kir'ko, it's a mind-infecting "neuroscrambler" virus.
  • Halo: The expanded universe reveals that the Flood can start doing this if it grows large enough, subtly affecting the thoughts of those around it in what is referred to as the "Logic Plague" to get those beings to assist the Flood in its goals. This is how the Flood is able to "infect" an Artificial Intelligence, which doesn't have any biological components for the Flood's usual methods to work against.
  • Mega Man X: The Maverick Virus and its upgraded verson the Zero Virus infect Reploids and alter their programming, turning them into murderous psychopaths that still, for the most part, retain their memories and personality. The Sigma Virus, on the other hand, is a sentient entity that takes over other Reploids and appropriates their bodies.
  • Total War: Warhammer III: A random campaign event describes the spread of a virus-like word, "Chen", that compels anyone who hears to shout it endlessly and so infect more people. Mechanically, this causes the spread of Tzeentch corruption for some turns, implying that the word was planted by the Chaos god in order to sow disorder.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair: The Despair Disease changes the personalities of the infected into their complete opposites. The humorous Genki Girl Ibuki Mioda becomes The Comically Serious, incredibly gullible and unable to understand jokes. The strong, confident Akane Owari becomes a total crybaby (with Monokuma even calling her variant of the disease "the Crybaby Disease"), continuously crying about Nekomaru and her inability to save him. The Brutally Honest Nagito Komaeda starts constantly telling Blatant Lies, and the extremely shy, meek and fragile Mikan Tsumiki reverts to her Ultimate Despair state, becoming mentally unstable and murdering Ibuki Mioda and Hiyoko Saionji as a result.
  • In Higurashi: When They Cry, Hinamizawa Syndrome is caused by some sort of parasite that is initially compared to a virus in the sixth arc. That is the only arc where it is referred to as a virus, and the person who called it that was an Unreliable Narrator. The arcs after it tend to use the term parasite. Since there are many lifeforms (and viruses) that can theoretically be called parasites, it's a little uncertain what type of lifeform it actually is. That parasite, though, is what causes just about all of the madness that winds up killing so many people in the earlier arcs.
  • Lux-Pain: The game's premise revolves around fighting the spread of Mind Viruses, which cause people to either become insanely violent of suicidally self-destructive.
  • Psycholonials: The title refers to the way in which Jubilite ideology colonizes the mind, turning people into Monster Clowns prone to mischief and violence. It's spread rapidly ("virally") through social media, and the work draws parallels between the uncontrollable spread of COVID-19 and the spread of the Jubilite Manifesto throughout the world. It's eventually revealed that the Jubilite ideology is an ancient, alien cultural virus that's transmitted from civilization to civilization throughout the universe after it colonizes an entire planet, and the ending animation that depicts it spreading beyond Earth resembles a network diagram depicting disease spread.
  • Zero Escape: The Radical-6 slows down thought processes of brain making everything around look like it's going on fast-forward and after a while causes severe urge to commit suicide.

  • Gifts of Wandering Ice: There are so-called psi-profiles which when "assigned" to a person act as a gateway for very specific mind viruses.
  • A Miracle of Science never goes into the exact details of how one normally contracts Science-Related Memetic Disorder in-universe (it's implied to be more of a "Go Mad from the Revelation" scenario, but never really discussed in-depth), but the Martians express concern that if one of their citizens contracts it, it might become one of these to them. It's only a theoretical possibility, but one they're understandably unwilling to test.
  • Schlock Mercenary: The Macarena is referred to by Reverend Theo Forbus as a "proven memetic infector".

    Web Original 
  • Orion's Arm: Memetics is a mature science, often used by transapients to craft memetic viruses that modosophonts have no defense against. Ranging from technophilic religions to weaponized memes that cause suicides.
  • Pretending to Be People: The Number Plague transmits itself via perception, forces its victims to engage in obsessive, ritualistic behavior, and ultimately kill themselves.
  • SCP Foundation: There are quite a few of these, which are classified by the Foundation as memetic hazards, pieces of knowledge that cause anomalous effects in anyone that learns them. They fall under the broader category of "Infohazards" and "cognitohazards", a broader collection of anything that inflicts harm when experienced through the cognitive senses.
    • According to one article, human sentience is a sentient and pandemic Mind Virus. As much as nobody wants to admit it in-universe, it's good that it is, too, or it would be wiped out by any number of things.
    • The Foundation has enough cognitohazards to have an entire page of Brown Notes, and many (although not all) of those are also Mind Viruses.

    Western Animation 
  • Mentioned in Young Justice (2010). When Artemis drugs (and is subsequently attacked by) an evil telepath when in deep cover, she uses this as an explanation for his odd behaviour.

    Real Life 
  • In Real Life, there's a sociological model known as Memetics, which posits that information and culture behaves like genetics ("meme" being the informational analogy of "gene")—that units of information transmit themselves from mind to mind. There's other competing sociological models, some of whose proponents point to Memetic Mutation as an example that Memetics isn't a viable model.
  • The early stages of ants infected with Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, AKA the zombie fungus. The ant is physically unchanged, but begins exhibiting odd behaviors like seizing out of its nest, climbing up the nearest suitable plant, and chomping down on a leaf so hard that it remains fixed there permanently while the fungus grows. As the fungus progresses, however, it takes over the ant's body physically as well as mentally - as fungi tend to do with decomposing organisms.
  • The lancet liver fluke is capable of controlling ants as well. Normally, ants retreat into their nest at night, but when a fluke gets in control of one, it causes the ant to climb up to the top of the nearest blade of grass and clamp its jaws down on it in hopes that the parasite's next host - a large herbivore - will mistakenly consume the ant along with the grass. However, the ant doesn't die as it does with the fungus; if it isn't consumed by an herbivore, it will instead climb down from the grass at dawn and continue to go about its daily ant activities, only to climb back up the grass at the next sunset.
  • According to some studies, humans infected with Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan found in cat feces and uncooked meat, develop a disease with a suite of behavioural oddities, known as Toxoplasmosis (up to the point that it's literally known as Crazy Cat Lady Syndrome). Infectees can develop mental symptoms that resemble schizophrenia, and some, particularly men, are known to lose their aversion to the stench of cat urine such that a dirty litterbox no longer bothers them. Toxoplasmosis also has an acute disease phase which resembles more traditional ills, with fever and malaise and the like, but it's the latent phase which is this trope.
    • Humans aren't the only ones who are affected by the infection. Rodents with T. gondii in their brains spend an excessive amount of time running around to draw attention to themselves and completely lose their fear of feline scents, even seeking them out. This serves to get the parasite into a cat, which is where it needs to be in order to reproduce.
  • Rabies is best known for its "furious" state, in which the virus drives the host to actively and violently seek out victims to bite. This is, of course, to ensure its own transmission. The other thing it's known for is hydrophobia, an irrational fear of water which ensures that the infected saliva remains in the host's mouth (but it also weakens the infectee, so they die sooner and infect fewer new victims).
  • The phenomenon termed folie à deux, or "shared psychosis/shared psychosis disorder". For those who are susceptible to madness, simply being around another unstable person can not only trigger a psychotic episode but can cause their form of madness to come to resemble the other person's, meaning that a form of mental illness normally thought of as self-limited suddenly becomes contagious.
  • The Green-banded Broodsac is a parasitic flatworm that uses land snails as a intermediate host to get to their real host of birds. The worm accomplishes this by forming large broodsacs in the snail's tentacles (preferably the left one) filled to the brim with cercariae (free swimming larvae) to look like a fat, juicy caterpillar and reduces the snail's ability to sense the change in lighting so that it will mistakenly crawl up into a high place, thinking it's night time, and let a bird rip off the tentacle to allow the cercariae to develop to adulthood in the bird's insides to start the cycle again.
  • Prions. They are misfolded proteins, and they cause normal proteins to also misfold. All known prions cause neurodegenerative diseases in mammals, including Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (CJD), bovine spongiform encephalopathy ("mad cow disease," or BSE), and kuru.
  • As mentioned in Your Mind Makes It Real page, Placebo and Nocebo effects can create positive or negative physical reaction in the person. But they can take it up a notch into Mass Psychogenic Illness, where the Nocebo effect spreads to other people, causing them to experience the same adverse reaction.