Intuitive expectations and the detection of mental disorder: A cognitive background to folk-psychiatries

Philosophical Psychology 24 (1):95-118 (2011)
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How do people detect mental dysfunction? What is the influence of cultural models of dysfunction on this detection process? The detection process as such is not usually researched as it falls between the domains of cross-cultural psychiatry and anthropological ethno-psychiatry . I provide a general model for this “missing link” between behavior and cultural models, grounded in empirical evidence for intuitive psychology. Normal adult minds entertain specific intuitive expectations about mental function and behavior, and by implication they infer that specific kinds of behavior are the result of underlying dysfunction. This suggests that there is a “catalogue” of possible behaviors that trigger that intuition, hence a limited catalogue of possible symptoms that feed into culturally specific folk-understandings of mental disorder. It also suggests that some mental dysfunctions, as they do not clearly violate principles of intuitive psychology, are “invisible” to folk-understandings. This perspective allows us to understand the cultural stability and spread of particular views of madness. It also suggests why certain types of mental disorder are invisible to folk-understandings



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