Culture-bound syndromes Windigo Psychosis, Susta, Latah, Amok, Pibloktoq

Culture-bound syndromes: Windigo Psychosis, Susta, Latah, Amok, Pibloktoq

Culture-bound syndromes are disorders which are thought to be seen only within specific cultures. There is much debate over these culture-bound syndromes. Some people believe that these disorders are simply expressions and perceptions of syndromes which exist across other cultures. Others believe that culture-bound syndromes arise due to differences in the enculturation/socialization process, or from biological differences, and that these syndromes are truly unique to these cultures. We are still not sure, but Culture-bound syndromes such as latah, amok, windigo psychosis, susto, and pibloktoq can be very interesting to study.

Latah Culture-Bound Syndrome

Latah is a mental disorder and Culture-bound syndrome seen in Indonesia, Malaysia, and areas or the Philippines which is characterized by an individual (most commonly a middle-aged woman) going into a fit of swearing, dancing, screaming, and hysterical laughter. These fits under latah are often triggered by being scared. They latah stricken may repeat phrases or imitate behaviors helplessly. . Common triggers of latah are as simple as hearing the word, snake or being tickled. Some people find these fits funny and purposely trigger them in people they know are affected by latah. Many of those who suffer from latah say that their disorder arose after a traumatic experience. (McLaren & Ringe, (Scupin, 2008)

Amok Culture-Bound Syndrome

The amok Culture-bound syndrome is an unfortunate one. After being insulted, the individual goes into a period of withdrawal and depressed brooding. During this time they may experience insomnia and drink large amounts of alcohol. After some period, the individual has a murderous outburst that does not end until they are dead or have been restrained. If they survive they often have no recollection of the events. Interestingly, there is only one female who experienced amok. I also find it interesting that the word amok has transferred over to the English language as a term to describe someone running wild. (McLaren & Ringe, (Scupin, 2008)

Windigo Psychosis Culture-Bound Syndrome

Those affected by the windigo psychosis Culture-bound syndrome go into a state in which they believe they have been possessed by the spirit of a cannibalistic being called Windigo. Windigo is a mythological creature seen in the history of the Algonquin Indians. Windigo psychosis has been seen across other tribes such as the Cree and Chippewa. Those under windigo psychosis have urges to eat human flesh, while ironically becoming paranoid of being a cannibal. Some of those who experience windigo psychosis have asked to be killed before they harm anyone. The rate of Native American individuals who experience windigo psychosis has dropped as their culture assimilates into modern society. ( (Scupin, 2008)

Susto Culture-Bound Syndrome

Susto Culture-bound syndrome is thought of as a loss of soul or an attack by spirits. Susto is seen in Latin America, most often in women who are culturally stressed. There are several home remedies that are said to improve the Susto condition (although this could be placebo and not help the Susto), and the condition also improves after gaining official knowledge of susto. (

Pibloktoq Culture-Bound Syndrome

Pibloktoq is another condition which initially involves an individual withdrawing from society, then randomly having an outburst. The disorder is experienced by Eskimo (Inuit) people in arctic regions. The outburst may include tearing off clothes and running through the snow, jumping into a fire, speaking in tongues, among other things. Some think Pibloktoq may be an extreme form of Cabin Fever. (Scrupin, 2008)


My first thoughts after reading about these culture-bound syndromes like latah, amok, windigo psychosis, susto, and pibloktoq was that several of them seem to have a lot of things in common. They often begin with a period of depression after some trigger, then lead to an outburst. They may believe that they have become possessed. The main difference is how the outburst is dealt with. Some lead to violence, while others divert the pain to themselves instead by jumping in a fire or in the snow. The Culture-bound syndrome could all be closely related and come out in different ways because of differences in culture.Initially I had a somewhat ethnocentric response to a few of these culture-bound syndromes (latah, amok, windigo psychosis, susto, and pibloktoq). I believe it is nearly impossible to avoid having at least a slight bias based on the culture which you are accustomed to when it comes to Culture-bound syndromes. It is hard not to think of these people as being barbaric (as the case with windigo which involves cannibalism), or just insane. We almost never see people experience things like this in western society, but these Culture-bound syndromes Windigo psychosis, Susta, Latah, Amok, Pibloktoq are just another part of life.

Author: William Jones

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  1. You made a great point about how these syndromes have one thing in common and that it’s how they deal with the syndromes. They either become very violent to others or just harm themselves. It’s still hard for me to grasp Windigo though because you even pointed out they fear of becoming a cannibal yet they have such an intense craving for human flesh. It’d be interesting to learn about more culture bound syndromes besides the ones listed in the book.

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  2. I think it is hard to look that other culture bound syndromes other then our know because you will always have some sort of bias. I liked the example you used with the cannibalism, most people in America would say that it is barbaric, but ask someone in a different culture they might say the same thing or something completely different. Another example of a bias would be how other cultures might think about the childbearing ways of parents living in the US, those can be completely different or the same around the world, but you will always have some what of a bias.

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  3. I agree its hard to not react ethnocentrically at first. although I dont think our society is immune to such culture-bound syndromes like latah, amok, windigo, susto, and pibloktoq. Maybe we just dont see them in the same light as others would since we experience it more frequently. Although I dont have enough knowledge on the subject of culture-bound syndromes to be specific, Id imagine there are some syndromes attributed to western culture. Serial killers are a predominately western phenomenon. Although not exactly the same, my point is that we overlook things that are taken for granted. I wonder what people in these cultures think of the afflicted people. Are they crazy? Or just victims? Very interesting stuff.

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