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date: 28 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Personality disorders are Western clinical entities. Their classification is based on a concept of the self and on values that have evolved in Western societies. Personality disorders illustrate the process of medicalization of social behavior, which is spreading throughout the world. Nevertheless many of the behaviors described in personality disorder classifications are pan-cultural. Individual personality disorders, notably antisocial personality disorder, have been described in most cultures, but rates vary significantly. Higher order personality domains have a similar structure in different countries. Personality traits such as the Big Five appear to be reproducible across different societies. Evolutionary psychology suggests that this universality reflects a fundamental similarity of human interests in status and reproduction. Western cultures are largely individualist, encouraging people to be independent, autonomous, and to strive for personal goals. Other cultures are more collectivistic, encouraging interdependent and cooperative behaviors. There is reasonable evidence that the “goodness of fit” between an individual’s personality style and his or her society is associated with self-reported psychological distress. Immigration and modernization may therefore be associated with increasing rates of personality disorders, although the evidence about this association is mixed. More cross-cultural research on personality disorders would be helped by a classification system with fewer, simple behaviorally based domains. Assessment of cultural factors as part of personality disorder diagnoses is mandatory given the cultural relativism of the diagnoses. Personality disorders reflect the interplay between culture and social-historical concepts of personality as well as neurobiology and developmental processes.

Keywords: personality disorders, culture, evolution, Big Five, individualism-collectivism, modernization, immigration

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