W3 Activity: Pibloktoq in the Arctic

The culture-bound syndrome that I decided to discuss in this post is called Pibloktoq. Also known as hysteria, consists of a spectrum of irrational behaviors. This ranges from episodes of a person ripping and tear their clothing, screaming uncontrollably, shouting curses, breaking nearby items, eating excrement, or running out into the cold. 1 This syndrome is prevalent among Arctic indigenous populations. It can happen to anyone but doesn’t occur till they’re adults. There are all sorts of stressors associated with this syndrome that researchers have postulated. Culturally, researchers support the hypothesis that pibloktoq is a manifestation of stress and despair over culture clash and culture degradation.2 Individually, it may be that person is filled with anger and frustration. In the article it talks about how native groups raised their children to behave like savages. While biologically, it is postulated that there is lack of certain nutrients in their diets. One research found that vitamin C and D can be hard to obtain in harsh environments like the artic. Anthony Wallace, one of the primary researchers on pibloktoq, hypothesized that a calcium deficiency caused the symptoms of apparent temporary insanity in native populations in the Arctic.3 However, with all this vast research and hypotheses there is still a lot of speculation circulating about this syndrome. This is because of the lack of cultural understanding. Researchers are strongly taking in cultural implications when they can make the diagnosis. This becomes troublesome because it makes difficult to understand the illness. It is unusual behavior however for the indigenous people in the artic it is part of the norm. As for people outside, pibloktoq is very stigmatized. This should be a huge red flag to all researchers because it is an illness that is heavily prevalent. Instead of having or sharing opposing thoughts on pibloktoq, researchers should unify and view this illness holistically.

Higgs, Rachel D. “Pibloktoq-A study of a culture-bound syndrome in the circumpolar region.” The Macalester Review 1, no. 1 (2011): 3.

3 thoughts on “W3 Activity: Pibloktoq in the Arctic

  1. Culture is a very interesting thing that is influenced by many factors. Based on what I have learned in this class, I define culture as beliefs, customs, morals, and actions shared by a group of people. I think this illness should be regarded as a cultural-bound syndrome since there are many cultural factors that contribute to this syndrome. As you said in the article, stress and despair over culture clash and culture degradation contribute to the prevalence of piblotoq in the Arctic society. An advantage of regarding this as a cultural based syndrome is that it is more recognized in the Arctic society so victims are more likely to seek help since they are aware. Another advantage is that it shows researchers much deeper-rooted problems within the Arctic community. Low levels of Vitamin C and D, and lack of nutrients from diet are problems that can be remedied with supplements. Disadvantages of this are that the syndrome is heavily stigmatized in societies outside of the Arctic. This stigma is probably partially due to lack of understanding about the syndrome and the factors that lead to it. In a different culture piblotoq would probably be considered a mental breakdown or just hysteria. This would probably be treated with visits to a psychiatrist or other forms of mental therapy.

  2. I would define culture as the collectively shared artistic, spiritual, behavioral and moral human manifestations and otherwise shared customs which are regarded collectively by a certain group of people. I would classify Piblotkoq as a culturally bound syndrome since as you described in your post, while the native people feel it is caused by a feeling of culture degradation or culture clash; there is still a considerable amount of speculation as to what the causes are from a biological standpoint. The benefit to classifying this as a culture bound syndrome is having such a large population of people to use as a control group since the arctic is so sparsely populated. It will be much easier to study this phenomenon when a researcher only has a small sample they need to observe and from there can extrapolate a theory far quicker. A disadvantage to this as you mentioned would be a stigma of high mental health problems surrounding arctic indigenous populations, when in reality this may not be the cause at all. You mentioned it has been theorized that the root cause from a biological standpoint may be due to dangerously low amounts of vitamin c and calcium in the diet of indigenous peoples which can easily be fixed through supplements or an addition of different foods high in these nutrients.

  3. Hello, Mariam

    Culture to me means the way a person is raised and the way a person lives. It includes their beliefs, rituals, traditions, along with the food they eat, music they listen to and hobbies they take place in. Culture can be determined by location, race, age, and time period. I think that CBS does not always exist but some cultures that are well determined can get different illness based on their genes, lifestyle and location. I do not think that culture is a good way of determining illness at all times because some culture is not as easy to determine and some people fall into more than one culture or maybe no defined culture at all. I think this blurred border between cultures leads to Pibloktoq because like you said in your summary this illness can come from stress over clashing cultures. I believe this illness is a CBS because it comes from the way that their family raised their children; it comes from their beliefs. It also comes from their location because they are not getting all the nutrients they need due to the resources they have available. Thinking of Pibloktoq as a CBS can be an advantage because people in this culture will be aware of this disease, which will help diagnose people and also have a support system. People will be better educated about the illness and why people are getting in, this will make those with the illness more accepted. The disadvantage of this illness being a CBS would be that people outside this culture would feel invincible to this illness and also give a sort of sigma to the culture that is more susceptible to Pibloktoq. In a different culture I believe Pibloktoq would be looked at as a mental illness and treatment with behavioral therapy and medication for the mental aspect of this illness.

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