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What Is Psychological Anthropology?

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  • Written By: Debra Barnhart
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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Psychological anthropology is a field of study that integrates concepts about society and human behavior. This interdisciplinary field examines the interplay between cultural structure and individual psychology. There are two broad schools of psychological anthropology. One stresses the influence of individual psychology on the formation of cultures, and the other focuses on how cultural values and rules shape individual behavior as well as even mental disease.

Psychological anthropology marries the two disciplines of anthropology and psychology, and examines the interaction between culture and individual thought patterns and emotions. Both anthropology and psychology are concerned with the study of human behavior, though they differ in their approach. Anthropologists analyze human behavior from a sociocultural standpoint, while psychologists concentrate on the impact of human brain function on individual behavior.

The interaction between society and personality, human development, mental illness and other key psychological concepts are some of the major concerns in psychological anthropology. There are two major schools of thought in psychological anthropology. One sees the individual human psyche as a force that shapes society and cultural values. The other looks at human psychology from a sociological perspective, positing that culture, or human beings as a group, interpret human experience and shape individual personality.

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Experts who believe in the force of the human psyche in shaping cultural values and rules point out that all cultures are made up of individuals. They believe the human brain shapes the way groups of people interact with their environment, families, neighbors and society as a whole. Certain human behavioral patterns are common across many cultures and therefore have an impact in forming those cultures.

Some experts, on the other hand, feel that each culture has a personality of its own. They believe that cultural ideas and expectations about behavior shape individual conduct. Cultural notions about human beings' place in the world, life and death, and a higher power are all integrally tied to individual mental states and mental processes. In addition, the language of a particular culture can also shape the way individuals perceive the world.

According to some experts, culture can even shape mental illness. For example, some people in Asia believe they have a disorder known as Koro, a peculiar mental condition. People suffering from Koro imagine that their genitals are retracting into their body and that they can die from this ailment. Women who experience Koro believe that their breasts are withdrawing into their bodies. This condition is thought to be a form of panic attack with some unique sexual idiosyncrasies.

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