Clinical Psychology

Culture and posttraumatic stress

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Science  28 May 2021:
Vol. 372, Issue 6545, pp. 930-931
DOI: 10.1126/science.372.6545.930-d

A warrior from the Turkana tribe of northern Kenya

PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/STAFF/GETTY IMAGES

It is unclear whether posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a universal response to violence found everywhere or if it is culturally specific to certain parts of the world. Zefferman and Mathew interviewed warriors among the Turkana, a population of subsistence pastoralists living in Kenya. Compared with a sample of American military servicemembers who had been treated for PTSD, Turkana were equally likely to experience reactive symptoms such as hypervigilance, which may be more sensitive to experiences of danger, but they were less likely to experience depressive symptoms such as detachment and loss of interest, which may be related to feelings of moral violation. These findings suggest that symptoms of PTSD directly tied to dangers of combat may be universal, whereas the symptoms tied to the morality of combat may be more culturally variable.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 118, e2020430118 (2021).

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