pibloktoq in the circumpolar region

The culture-bound syndrome (CBS) I chose was pibloktoq, an illness that is found in the circumpolar region – an area that encompasses the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Those who have pibloktoq will initially become more introverted and sullen but subsequently will become aggressive. “When pibloktoq occurs, the person may rip and tear their clothing, scream uncontrollably, shout curses, break nearby items, eat excrement, or run out into the cold. Piblotoq sufferers may also exhibit further irrational and dangerous behavior. This may consist of running naked out in to extremely frigid temperatures or even walking out on to thin ice” (Higgs). Piblotoq seems to be more prevalent amongst women than men. It also seems to be more prevalent during the winter months — though it should be noted that the study that came to this conclusion was only done for a year and had a small sample size so the conclusion might be incorrect.

It isn’t entirely clear what is causing pibloktoq. Within the indigenous communities of the circumpolar region, they all see pibloktoq to be a physical ailment that will end. Higgs compares this to the flu in the United States. There is no stigma that comes with having pibloktoq within these communities. It is treated as something inevitable. The Euro-American perspectives, however, consider pibloktoq to be caused by stress, psychological maladies or malnutrition (Higgs). Around the 1960s, pibloktoq was believed to be the result of the indigenous populations’ uncivilized nature, savagery, and inferiority – which highlights the ethnocentrism and racism prevalent in the field. Another explanation for pibloktoq was rooted in the assumption that pibloktoq did not come to existence until the indigenous populations came in contact with the European and American populations. Pibloktoq, then, was a result of the stress that came with these cultures clashing as well as the degradation of their culture that came from the Euro-Americans. However, there really isn’t enough evidence to buttress this argument. Other researchers consider pibloktoq to be a form of mental instability – calling it ‘Arctic hysteria’. Another explanation is vitamin deficiencies that lend itself to becoming more susceptible to “temporary insanity.”

As you can see, there really isn’t any sufficient evidence for the causes of pibloktoq. As Euro/Americans who are studying pibloktoq are doing so from a biomedical background, they might not be seeing the full picture. “To the biomedical professional, pibloktoq may be viewed as a disorder that biomedicine has simply not seen before rather than an illness that only occurs in a specific region due to cultural factors” (Higgs). As most of the information about pibloktoq is coming from the Europeans/Americans, it is ultimately coming from a western and therefore biomedical perspective. Another issue with understanding piblokotoq is the culture barriers – there hasn’t been much inclusion of indigenous cultures into understanding pibloktoq. To ameliorate this, it is crucial that when researchers study pibloktoq, they are doing so from a circumpolar perspective over a western one.


Higgs, Rachel D. “Pibloktoq – A Study of a Culture-bound Syndrome in the Circumpolar Region.” The Macalester Review 3rd ser. 1.1 (2011 Web.

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