Intersections of Samoan Ethnopsychology, Adolescent Impulsivity and Maladaptive Behavior

Document Type


Presentation Date


Conference Name

American Anthopological Association Annual Meeting

Conference Location

New Orleans, LA

Peer Review



Impulsivity and its control represent a fundamental element of Samoan ethnopsychology. From a Samoan perspective, a central goal of human development is the acquisition of behavioral restrain and control of selfish, passionate and frequently aggressive drives and urges (āmio), and the adoption of socially prescribed forms of conduct. Yet various forms of impulsive and risk-taking behaviors can be status enhancing and even expected forms of social conduct in many contexts. Impulsive behavior in Samoan youth, however, is associated with significant ‘costs’ as Samoa experiences an extraordinarily high incidence of adolescent suicide, peer-directed violence, and increasing problems with substance use and abuse. This paper will examine the ways Samoan ethnopsychology frame and influence adolescent risk taking and impulsivity in the larger context of rapid sociocultural and economic change. The paper will illustrate these intersections with data drawn from semi-structured interviews and a large epidemiological study of mental health in Samoan adolescent school children. The larger contribution of this work is to attempt to situate the causes and consequences of impulsivity and the developmental plasticity of adolescence within a specific historical and sociocultural context.


Samoa, Polynesia, impulsivity, ethnopsychology


Anthropology | Psychiatric and Mental Health | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Substance Abuse and Addiction

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