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Cult Med Psychiatry. 1996 Sep;20(3):343-67.

The experiences of ataques de nervios: towards an anthropology of emotions in Puerto Rico.

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  • 1Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA.


Ataques de nervios are an idiom of distress used by Puerto Ricans and other Latinos to express dislocations in the social world of the family. This paper contributes to the growing study of the "anthropology of the emotions". Through detailed interviews with 121 people in Puerto Rico, 78 of whom had had an ataque de nervios, we are developing a thick description of both the prototypical models for ataques de nervios and the varied individual experiences of ataques. The interview used in this study is a version of the Explanatory Model Interview Catalogue specifically adapted for use in a community study of ataques de nervios in Puerto Rico. Responses to questions on the experience of ataque de nervios were analyzed using a team of reviewers who represented differing knowledge and experience with Puerto Rican culture and mental health practice. The experience of ataques de nervios involves a loss of control in several important domains of experience: emotional expressions, bodily sensations, action dimensions and alterations in consciousness. That loss of control is closely linked to important social contexts relating to major life problems and the experience of suffering.

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