From Wikipedia:

Panic attacks are periods of intense fear or apprehension that are of sudden onset and of relatively brief duration. Panic attacks usually begin abruptly, reach a peak within 10 minutes, and subside over the next several hours.

It looks like the part about occuring sharply and subsiding over the next several hours is the key, to determining whether a market is having a panic attack, or a more controlled situation. What was today? Well the market was sold heavily on the open in Asia, and got hit all day, with volatility not essentially picking up until the last hour (this may be a crucial element, as it does appear that the attacks end with lower volatility then higher and this may signal whether another one is in the offering)

No doubt some of the causes in the wiki article on panic attacks can be directly compared to economics.

Steve Ellison writes:

Much may depend on one's choice of time frame, but I doubt the original Specialist in Panics would have been excited by a 1.7% decline that started 1% off the 20-day high and 2% off the 2-year high.


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