Proceedings of the Fifth World Congress of Psychiatry, Mexico City.
Amok, a syndrome described in several southeast Asian countries, is also well known in Laos. In the last ten years it has happened there in a new form: the sudden wholesale killing and maiming of unsuspecting victims with hand grenades. It may or may not be followed by the suicide of the amok person. In this paper the social and psychological factors behind grenade-amok are examined. The results are based on extensive studies of eighteen cases, including interviews with surviving amok persons and their families and with key informants in the community. All the amok persons were young men, either soldiers or militiamen, and all had easy access to hand grenades. These men were sons of peasants who had drifted into larger towns, and they differed from their fathers in both occupation and education. None had gross psychiatric pathology prior to the amok incident, though many evidenced traits of immaturity and impulsivity. The precipitating event was some kind of loss, whether of wife, girl friend, money, or prestige.