Author(s) Yap, Pow Meng
Year 1952
Title The Latah Reaction: Its Pathodynamics and Nosological Postition
Published in The Journal of Mental Science, Vol. 98, No. 413
Pages 515–564
DOI 10.1192/bjp.98.413.515
Abstract A critical review of the literature on latah is given in Sections I and II, and the hitherto unsatisfactory treatment of the subject is pointed out. In Section III a full account is given of the Jumpers because of their importance as an example of the latah reaction occurring among people of Caucasian stock in a temperate climate. Sections IV and V deal with miryachit and imu, including a review of the relevant literature.

In Section VI the latah reaction is related to “sleep intoxication” and the so-called “startle neurosis,” and differentiated from convulsive tics and “primitive hysteria.” The meaning of the last is examined and it is suggested that the behaviour covered by it should be included under Kretschmer's “primitive reactions.” The meaning of hysteria is discussed in Section VII and Kretschmer's analysis of it is regarded as the most adequate. It is suggested that where a morbid gain cannot be demonstrated hysteria should not be diagnosed even though “hysterical mechanisms” are involved; but instead the case should be classed with fright neurosis or the psychosomatic organ neuroses. In Section VIII the term “fright neurosis” is shown to be preferable to “traumatic neurosis” and is distinguished clearly from organic post-concussion states, traumatic hysteria and the primitive reactions.

In Section IX cases observed personally by me in Malays are described, and two hitherto unnoticed symptoms as well as the general features of latah are discussed.

Section X is devoted to the pathodynamics of the reaction. The factors of fright, tickling, habituation, aging and hysterical gain are dealt with. Latah is considered to be essentially an intense fright reaction involving disorganization of the Ego and obliteration of the Ego-boundaries. A theory of automatic obedience and the echo-reactions is given: this states that fright provokes inhibitory processes which bring about “suppression” (Rivers) of perceptual activity; impairment of the perception of local signature leads to a dissolution of the boundaries of the Ego as has been shown by Uexkull, so that the patient's behaviour becomes more directly determined by forces in the total behavioural field according to Gestalt principles ; this manifests itself in echo-phenomena and automatic obedience. Coprolalia is interpreted as a symbolic (verbal) defensive act. The affinities of the latah state to hypnosis and fascination are discussed.

Section XI critically reviews such aetiological theories as have been put forward. A special modifying of personality and of the organization of fear in persons belonging to cultures of low technological level is suggested. The nosological position of latah is dealt with in Section XII, and it is concluded that latah is a specialized form of fright neurosis, with minimal hysterical features, culturally maintained, and found only in persons whose powers of mastery and of defence are limited by the level of their own cultural development.

In Section XIII it is pointed out that organization of the different emotions varies with the cultural milieu and that it is of great importance for comparative psychiatry to recognize this; the usefulness of applying the concept of a special fear-organization to the analysis of latah is stressed. Finally, some suggestions for further research are given.

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