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Anna Hofmann
Independent Research
Grade 11

Title: ​Uncovering the Secrets: Culture-Bound Syndromes and What They Entail

Introduction and Overview of Research:

A culture-bound syndrome is a unique “condition” found only within a certain culture,

region, or ethnicity. These conditions can be mental illnesses or diseases without tissue
abnormalities (Burton, 2012). They are defined as culture-bound because they are not recognized
or seen in other cultures, leading to a lack of familiarity. However, researchers struggle with the
why? p​ ortion of their occurrence. It can be hypothesized that these conditions occur because of
the specific environment that one grows up in, which ultimately varies from culture to culture.
By the end of the research and analysis being done, it is hoped that the origin of these
culture-bound syndromes can be determined.

Background and Rationale:

Pow Ming Yap, a world-renowned psychiatrist, first defined the term “culture-bound
psychogenic psychosis” after his research being done in Asian, Pacific, and tribal societies
during the 1960s. He noted that people living in these types of populations described their own
personal behavioral syndromes different than those typically categorized in mainstream, Western
psychiatry (Rebhun, 2004). Yap’s findings were documented both in 1962 and 1969 in the Acta
Psychiatrica Scandinavica, a Scandinavian peer-reviewed medical journal (Reuters, 2015). 7
years later, he modified the term to “culture-bound syndrome”, which ultimately led to a greater
recognition and increased ‘popularity’ within the psychiatric community (Ventriglio et al., 2015).

With the technological advancements the later 20th century brought, including the
development of the home computer and internet, a greater global awareness followed. Devices
such as this allowed for mass worldwide communication to become more readily available to
those who may not have had access in the past. With this, doctors and researchers from around
the world became able to share their information and findings more easily (Watters, 2010).
Although Yap first coined the name “culture-bound syndrome” over 50 years ago, these
advancements helped make the term more universal.

A greater world awareness is important for all to have, especially in the present-day
global climate. Until beginning research, the term “culture-bound syndrome” was not entirely
familiar to me. Living in a Westernized society, there is a lack of exposure to things of this
nature due to the ‘bubble’ that many Americans live in. Becoming exposed to this piece of
anthropology has created the realization that with the help of those who have access to premier
medical equipment and professionals, people in less-fortunate societies could benefit. Using
these resources, those affected by a unique mental illness can get adequate treatment and help

that their local professionals may not be able to provide. This extensive research could also help
to prevent these rarities in general.

Research Methodology:

Research question: ​Why do people in specific ethnological settings experience mental illness
unique to their culture?

Hypothesis: ​People across many cultures experience mental illness differently based on their
definitive upbringing and homelife.

Nature vs. nurture; it has essentially come down to behavior inherited through familial
genes or acquired through experiences. The way a person is raised and the values put in place as
they grow greatly affects their later life in ways that are seemingly obvious to most. For example,
studies show, that 40% to 60% of adult abusers were abused themselves as a child (Brooks,
2001). Being exposed to aggressive acts by their parents when they were young led them to
reciprocate those actions. This shows the correlation of how someone's environment as a child
can ultimately affect their behavior later on in life. But, the question is, can this same mindset be
used when discussing unusual culture-bound mental illnesses?

Those living in a Western society (generally) participate in the same cultural norms. The
same goes for people in different regions of the world. Many things that may seem abnormal to
one culture may be typical in another, or vice versa. For example, in Southeast Asia, the concept
of “saving face” or “losing face” in social situations. While this is often seen as a very complex
concept, it can be boiled down to personal dignity and respecting yourself and others through
social hierarchies (McDonald, 2017). There are various other norms that are seen in the
Southeast Asian culture, along with many culture-bound syndrome cases. This could believe one
to think that there is a correlation between the environment one grows up in and their “ability” to
be diagnosed with a specific culture-bound mental illness.

Research Design Model:

An ethnography research method would be most beneficial due to the association of this
and the focus on cultural differences and anthropology. With a method such as this, qualitative
data is the best option in order to get the most accurate information about the subject. Truly
understanding the viewpoints and experiences of those affected by the culture-bound mental
illness/experts in the field can help gain extensive knowledge in order to reflect and analyze.

● Culture: the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing
language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.
● Upbringing/homelife: the way that a person is raised and cared for as a child. It is
believed that this affects the child's future endeavors, whether it be regarding individual
personality or medicinal needs

● Mental illness: ​a condition that affects a person's thinking, feeling or mood.

● Ethnology (used as “ethnological”): ​ the comparative and analytical study of cultures;
cultural anthropology.

Data Collection:
Based on the need for qualitative research, meta-analysis appears to be the best option for
the current situation. While interviews can also be an appropriate option for this type of research,
this would require the assemblage of five more credible people to talk with. Because of the
uniqueness of this topic and the difficulty of finding a person to interview for a previous
assignment, this may not be the most efficient option. There is no specific right person to talk to
about culture-bound syndromes, which makes it difficult to find five. If conducting a
meta-analysis style of data collection, there is a greater freedom in deciding what specific topics
to cover. Having complete control of the information given allows for personal interpretation.

Product Objectives:

A website, pamphlet, or other informational device to use as a product will be most

effective to get the message out to the intended audience. With a simple, detailed mean of
displaying the information found thus far, the objective will come across the clearest. Educating
and informing the audience is the primary objective. Although creating a video or starting a club
or campaign would be enjoyable, generally, the topic of mental illness is not easily explained
through something as simple because of the serious nature of the issue. In a video, it can be
feared that the information could come across in the wrong way and potentially offend viewers.
A club or campaign would not be viable because of the lack of resources and lack of a final
achievable goal the researcher has, besides the gaining of knowledge. A potential target audience
is someone proficient in the field of medical anthropology. An example of this is a general
anthropologist or a researcher interested in a similar department. With a topic as complex and
deep as culture-bound mental illnesses, someone who is knowledgeable on parts, yet still open to
learning, is the best option. When presenting a product to experts in the field, it may be difficult
to inform them about something that they do not already know. Also, there is a limited amount of
potential experts to contact in general. On the other hand, there are many children of all ages that
would be available for the researcher to expose to the information. However, it might pose a
challenge of making the topic interesting enough for them to ​care​. Because this is a topic that
most children are not exposed to, their interest in it is probably not significant enough to have
them as a target audience. In order to communicate the product with those proficient in the field,
if a website is decided, linking it to a similar article could possibly be the best option. Or, having
an independent page with keywords could also be a way of reaching them.

Logistical Considerations:

One possible limitation is being sure to define the term “specific ethnological settings”
throughout the research project, which could be seen as vague or confusing. This is intended to
mean various cultures, countries, dialects, or ethnicities with their own traditional possible
distinctions from one another. Ultimately, the similarities within each group will help to link the
common and/or unusual mental illnesses as well. In order to overcome this limitation, keeping
the definition consistent and clear with be essential.

In order to have a successful qualitative research process, human resources are necessary.
A minimum of five interviews are required, which allows for room to draw conclusions based off
of the information given by the interviewee. In order to create a simpler, informative product,
access to either a website generator or a printer (for a pamphlet) is needed. Also, a way of
contacting the proficient audience, including but not limited to anthropologists and social science
researchers, is necessary. Besides the potential rights to a webpage domain name, no permission
will be required to communicate with the audience. In third quarter, a timeline will be added that
outlines the data collection, product development, and audience distribution.


Date Item to be Completed Further Elaboration Completed

3/12/19 Find meta-analysis Narrow down options

articles to 5 selected with
adequate information
that is easily

3/15/19 Conference with Dr Should discuss

Kiehl potential options for

3/16/19 Annotate, summarize, While this is apart of

and cite all articles the rubric, besides
being a requirement,
it will help in
analyzing each for the
creation of the chart

3/19/19 Begin working on Need to go over

oral presentation rubric and determine
a plan

3/22/19 Create evaluation Necessary to compare

chart articles through a
chart with
questions or findings

3/24/19 Continue working on Relate data collection

oral presentation to overall completed

3/26/19 Begin digital Go over all needed

portfolio work for digital
portfolio success

3/27/19 Give oral Decide which class

presentation prior to doing so

3/29/19 Submit rough draft of Finalize completed


data collection research and be sure

formatting is correct

3/31/19 Work on digital Be sure to arrange all

portfolio of the things
according to the

4/1/19 Complete peer review Find partner to

of data collection exchange findings
with; evaluate and
give advice on their
analysis and

4/4/19 Submit digital Double check

portfolio formatting and

4/4/19 Submit final data Use rubrics to be sure

collection and that all information is
analysis - included

4/5/19 Submit final peer Make sure I have

review proper use of
constructive criticism
for them

4/7/19 Begin working on This will assist me in

data analysis rough gathering all of the
draft data I collected in
order to form a

4/12/19 Submit data analysis Be sure to pull

rough draft information from all
aspects of done
research through data
collection process

4/14/19 Begin working on Use collected

display board information and
sources gained
throughout the year to
make a visual

representation to
show at the
Celebration of

4/21/19 Write and submit Decide on a person to

thank you note write thank you note
to in order to thank
them for their help
with my research

4/22/18 Work on display Use collected

board information and
sources gained
throughout the year to
make a visual
representation to
show at the
Celebration of

4/29/19 Work on final Combine research

synthesis paper done throughout the
year in various

5/7/19 Finish display board Use the rubric to

and attend ensure that all
Celebration of materials are included
Excellence in order to show
completed research in
an appealing way.
Make sure to be
knowledgeable about
research in order to
support board at

5/10/19 Submit final Review all done

synthesis paper research from the past
years work to draw
overall conclusions
through a lengthy


5/10/19 Have fourth quarter Review work

conference with Dr completed and go
Kiehl over what still needs
to be done to
complete all research
by end of year.

5/12/19 Begin working on Decide on method for

final product and oral final product (leaning
presentation towards video) and
figure out a way to
incorporate it into
oral presentation

5/31/19 Submit final product Be sure to include all

and deliver oral requirements and to
presentation coordinate the
information in the
product and the
presentation so that
they can coexist.


​ etrieved from
Brooks, J. (12 February 2001). Early abuse leads to later aggression. ​WebMD. R

Burton, N. (2012, June 6). The culture of mental illness. ​Psychology Today.​ Retrieved from

McDonald, S. (25 October 2017). Cultural norms and sensitivities. ​​ Retrieved

Rebhun, L.A. (2004). ​Culture-bound syndromes. In: Ember C.R., Ember M. (eds).​ Encyclopedia
of Medical Anthropology.​ Retrieved from

Reuters, T. (2015). Acta psychiatrica scandinavica. ​Web of Science.​ Retrieved from

Ventriglio, A, Ayonrinde, O, & Bhugra, D. (31 August 2015). Relevance of culture-bound

syndromes in the 21st century. ​Wiley Online Library.​ Retrieved from

Watters, E. (2010, January 08). The Americanization of mental illness. ​The New York Times.
Retrieved from ​