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On the Epidemicity of Amok Violence

Joseph Westermeyer, MD, PhD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1973;28(6):873-876. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1973.01750360085012.
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Traditionally, amok has been viewed as a bizarre culture-bound form of psychopathology. More recently, psychosocial aspects of this form of violence have been studied. This paper questions the solely endemic nature of amok and suggests that it has certain epidemic characteristics.

Data to support this argument come from my work in Laos, and from reports originating in Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Three specific variables are examined: change in incidence of amok over time, spread of amok from one ethnic group or nation to another, and the use of a culturally prescribed weapon.

Change in incidence of amok over time is related to certain historical correlates (especially politicoeconomic and cultural factors). Traditional hypotheses for amok violence are critiqued. A new psychosocial perspective is offered as a more inclusive and economic explanation for amok.


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