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October 1966

How Preliterate Peoples Explain Disturbed Behavior

Author Affiliations


Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1966;15(4):398-409. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1966.01730160062010

IN WESTERN civilization we are obsessed with finding causes. We believe in general that if a cause or causes of any problem can be defined, correction is usually easier than if we simply act empirically. Furthermore, assigning a cause makes us feel both intellectually satisfied and in control. Our culture is not, however, the only one with explanations for mysterious events, such as mental illness. Peoples in cultures without a Charcot-Freud-Jung tradition or even a written language have their own interpretations of events when one of their indigenes acts abnormally. It might be rewarding to compare their explanations with our own.

First I must point out, however, that I use words implying or describing atypical, abnormal, deviant, or disturbed behavior rather than terms we associate with mental illness because behavior is our only way to define states of mental health and illness. This behavior

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