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Psychopathology. 2002 Nov-Dec;35(6):362-6.

'Brain fag' symptoms in apprentices in Nigeria.

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Department of Mental Health, College of Health Sciences, Olufemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.


The 'brain fag' syndrome, which was first reported from West Africa in 1960 among students, has been shown to occur very widely in African students in western educational systems south of the Sahara. This study investigated the distribution of its symptoms in a group of apprentices chosen by convenient sampling from Ile-Ife, a university town about 240 km northeast of Lagos in Nigeria. The subjects who (in contrast) were training under an indigenous form of education - the African apprenticeship system - consisted of 183 (69.8%) males, and 79 (30.2%) females, in the age range of 13-26 years (mean +/- SD 18.2 +/- 3.0 years). Questionnaires were interview-administered to collect data on the sociodemographic, economic, and family background, English language proficiency, and the degree of the presence of brain fag symptoms. Results indicated a generally low rate of brain fag symptoms among these different types of apprentices. A relationship between proficiency in English, but not socioeconomic status, with brain fag symptoms was found. In the case of the Nigerian apprentices investigated here, brain fag symptoms were not significantly associated with the method of training learning (which is dependent mainly on verbal instructions in the vernacular from their bosses, and vicarious learning by observing the boss at work). The implications of these findings for two of the theories advanced for the pathogenesis of the brain fag syndrome were discussed.

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