Latah in Malaysia and Indonesia

The culture bound syndrome of interest to me was Latah. This CBS originated in Southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia. Latah is behaviors associated with a person experiencing shock, which can include screaming, dancing, and cursing. This condition is of interest to anthropologists because it goes against the normal behaviors of people in Southeast Asia. The Javanese and Malays were known for their emotional control, but Latah is the complete opposite and is a startle disorder. Robert Winzeler used various approaches to understand and explain Latah. In order to do so, he gave two different classifications of Latah: an exaggerated startle reaction and involuntary imitative behavior or “true” Latah. For example, children startled a Kelantanese woman by using a toy that had wooden chickens poking at the board, and she started imitating the movements of the chicken rapidly. Winzeler made an argument that Latah is a cultural aspect rather than genetic. This is because he recorded the spread of Latah from the Malay people to the Chinese and Thais. Winzeler didn’t believe there were any genetics or individual dimensions involved. He sought out to explain the relationship between Latah and Malaysia people with its occurrence in other areas of the world. He didn’t have the full explanations of Latah, but his work is a huge step in the right direction.


Latah is a condition in which people cannot control their emotions, and instead have an outburst or startle disorder. As of now, people view this condition as a personal flaw rather than an illness, which is why there haven’t been very many treatments available for it. Many people who have this condition don’t seek out any treatment for it and as a result, there have been to cures. Not even the Malyasian people have any traditional cures or treatments for this culture bound syndrome. They also believe that it is not a mental illness, and there are no treatments to be found.


Raybeck, Douglas. “Latah in Southeast Asia: The History and Ethnography of a Culture-Bound Syndrome.” . (accessed July 15, 2014).

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Paige Smith says:

    I defined culture as the collection of ideas, beliefs, practices, and customs that a particular society values. These could include ideas about: beauty, how to behave in public, religion and spirituality or the difference between right and wrong. With this being said, I think Latah should be considered a culture-bound syndrome. Even though this condition is still being examined in relation to its occurrence in other areas of the world, it is evident that the behaviors of those experiencing Latah go against what the Malaysian and Indonesian people consider to be normal. However, it also seems that exaggerated reactions in response to minimal stimuli would be abnormal in any culture. In American culture emotional control is also considered important but our response to someone acting out in the way that Latah does would be counseling, medication, or another form of therapy to stop what society views as abnormal behavior. Doctors would seek to find the cause of Latah, believing it to be of biological, social, or environmental causes and money would be spent on research for the cause and treatment of Latah. It does not surprise me that those people with Latah in Malaysia and Indonesia do not seek treatment for this condition. Latah would be similar to a mental illness in America and in other cultures, people with symptoms indicating depression would not seek treatment. Hopefully, in the future more will be known about Latah.

  2. Nikki Silva says:

    Great post Connor! I had not heard about Latah before I read your post. It is interesting with this CBS that there is such stigma surrounding the disease and that no treatment has been developed in the culture for individuals suffering from this syndrome.

Leave a Reply