Cultural Universal Theory

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CULTURE-BOUND EFFECTS/ PHE-NOM-ENA. Cross-cultural studies and research have indicated that there are several "culture-bound" (CB) phenomena/effects or behaviors that seem to be peculiar from the perspective of people in some of the more "advanced" or "developed" regions of the world, especially in the Western countries. For example, the following CB phenomena have been observed and documented: latah - found mainly in Malaysia and Indonesia, most often among middle-aged women, this behavior seems to be precipitated by sudden stress and has two major components: a startle reaction and subsequent imitative behavior including echolalia (repeating what someone says), echopraxia (repeating what someone does), automatic obedience coprolalia (involuntary speaking of obscene words), fear, a trance-like state, and altered consciousness; one theory of this behavior holds that certain Malaysian and Indonesian child-rearing practices predispose persons toward hypersuggestibility, which subsequently becomes related to sexual functioning (cf., Murphy, 1972); amok - originally, in the 16th century, occurred in religious zealots who had taken vows to sacrifice their lives in battle against the enemy; later, in Southeast Asia, the term referred to persons who emerge from periods of apathy and withdrawal with a sudden outburst of agitation, mania, and violent physical attacks on those nearby (i.e., the person "runs amuck"); among the theories of this behavior include the presence of febrile diseases (e.g., malaria), nonfebrile diseases (e.g., syphilis), opium addiction, chronic disorders (e.g., brain damage), sociopsychologi-cal distress, sleep deprivation, infections, sexual arousal, or excessive heat; this behavior appears to be similar to other-named behaviors in other cultures, such as "malignant anxiety" in Africa, "cathard" in Polynesia, "negi-negi" in New Guinea, and "pseudonite" in the Sahara desert region; susto/espanto - refers to "soul loss," is common among Hispanic populations especially in children and young women; this behavior typically follows some frightening ("susto" or "espanto") experience (sometimes weeks, or even months and years, later) in which one's soul is thought to have departed the body, resulting in weight loss, appetite loss, skin pallor, lethargy, fatigue, untidiness, and excessive thirst; theories of this behavior include the presence of unacceptable impulses, producing overreliance on the defense mechanisms of displacement, isolation, and projection; in children, this behavior may be due to insecurities and fears associated with parental abandonment, especially under circumstances of frequent migration and mobility; koro/shook yong - is found among Chinese peoples, mainly in men, in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong; this behavior is characterized by an intense fear that one's penis is shrinking and withdrawing into the body, and may cause one's death; in attempting to deal with this fear, the individual often holds onto his penis during the day and wears bamboo clamps on the penis while sleeping; in women, however, this fear may be experienced as a sensation that the breasts are shrinking or the labia are withdrawing into the body; theories of the behavior include the presence of faulty beliefs about the balance of yin (female) and yang (male) forces related to sexual excesses, as well as perceived shame over one's actions, in particular if there is frequent resort to masturbation or prostitution; locura - a CB behavioral phenomenon resembling a chronic, schizophrenic-like psychosis, found in several Latin American countries, and consisting of incoherence, psychomotor agitation, visual and auditory hallucinations, and occasional outbursts of aggressive and violent behavior; shenjing shuairuo - a CB syndrome, found among Chinese communities in Southern/eastern Asia, and characterized by fatigue, headaches, dizziness, joint/muscle pain, sexual dysfunctions, and loss of concentration, and is similar to "mood disorders" and "anxiety disorders" in Western cultures; shen-k'uei -a CB phenomenon, found among men in Thailand and in ethnic Chinese communities in Southern/eastern Asia, and is characterized by anxiety and panic attacks, along with somatic symptoms such as sexual dysfunction, dizziness, insomnia, and fatigue, and is attributed often to loss of semen occasioned by increases or excesses in sexual intercourse, nocturnal emissions, or masturbation; it is similar to dhat - a CB effect, found in India and Sri Lanka, involving severe anxiety and hypochondria, and attributed to excessive discharge of semen; shin-byung - a CB phenomenon, found in Korea, and characterized by insomnia, dissociation, anxiety, dizziness, and fatigue, and attributed to possession by the spirits of dead relatives and ancestors; taijin kyofusho (also called shinkei-shitsu) -is a CB effect, found mainly in Japan, and characterized by intense/debilitating anxiety that one's body, or its parts and functions, are repugnant, embarrassing, displeasing, or offensive to others, and is similar to "social phobic" behavior in Western cultures (i.e., an anxiety/panic disorder characterized by an irrational fear of scrutiny by others, or of being the center of attention in social settings involving strangers); uqamairineq - a CB syndrome, found mainly in Eskimo communities of North America and Greenland, in which the sensation/experience of an unusual smell or sound is followed by sudden paralysis, hallucinations, anxiety, or psychomotor agitation; this effect typically lasts only a few minutes and is attributed by those communities or cultures as being due to a loss of soul or possession by spirits, and it may be interpreted, also, by non-Eskimos as a form of dissociative disorder where there is a partial or total disconnection between past memories, self-awareness/identity, and immediate sensations precipitated by disturbed relationships, traumatic experiences, or problems perceived as insurmountable; windigo - a rare and controversial CB syndrome, found mainly among North American Indian tribes in the subarctic region, and is characterized by depression, suicidal/homicidal thoughts, and a compulsive desire to eat human flesh; if the afflicted individual does turn to cannibalism, he/she is considered by the culture to be a monster and is ostracized or put to death; zar/sar - a CB effect, found mainly in Ethiopia and other North African regions, as well as in certain Arab communities in various parts of the Middle East, and is characterized by episodes of personality dissociation attributed to spirit possession, and linked to behaviors such as excessive and inappropriate laughing, shouting, singing, and weeping, along with self-mutilation/injury, and is followed, often, by apathy and withdrawal from others; the CB effect is treated typically by elaborate exor-cistic ceremonies involving dancing, singing, and drinking the blood of a sacrificed animal (much like many of the fraternity-induction ceremonies on many American college and university campuses); bangungut - a CB syndrome observed mainly in young Filipino and Laotian men in which the sufferer appears to have been frightened to death by severe nightmares. In general, theoretical approaches to CB phenomena may be viewed by Westerners as variants of "neurotic disorders" found in the Western world, or as forms of "reactive psychoses" related to paranoid or emotional/disordered consciousness problems; in either case, the CB behaviors and syndromes are viewed essentially as being psychogenic in origin and emphasize the role of cultural factors in the etiology, onset, manifestation /expression, course, and outcome of such effects/phenomena. See also LABELING/DEVIANCE THEORY; PSYCHO-PATHOLOGY, THEORIES OF. REFERENCES

Yap, P. M. (1951). Mental diseases peculiar to certain cultures. Journal of Mental Science, 97, 313-327. Murphy, H. B. M. (1972). History and the evolution of syndromes: The striking case of latah and amok. In M. Hammer, K. Salzinger & S. Sutton (Eds.), Psychopathology: Contributions from the biological, behavioral, and social sciences. New York: Wiley. Marsella, A. J., & White, G. (Eds.) (1982).

Cultural conceptions of mental health and therapy. New York: Reidel.


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