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Latah in Jakarta, Indonesia.

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the characteristics of latah in modern Indonesia; to determine whether contemporary latah resembles the syndrome described in the nineteenth century; to compare the syndrome of latah to other disorders featuring tics or exaggerated startle responses.

BACKGROUND: Latah, described centuries ago in Malay people, is characterized by an exaggerated motor startle response, often with associated involuntary vocalizations, echolalia, echopraxia, and forced obedience. Modern latah has not been systematically studied.

DESIGN AND METHODS: Persons with latah living in Jakarta, Indonesia, were investigated using a standardized, videotaped protocol.

RESULTS: Fifteen women were studied. All had exaggerated startle to touch, and 10 to frightening words. Echolalia was seen in 10, echopraxia in 11, and forced obedience in 13. The startle response did not habituate, but instead worsened in response to repeated stimuli. Startle and associated symptoms were only partially suppressible in fewer than half.

CONCLUSION: Modern latah resembles that described over a century ago. Latah resembles other disorders with exaggerated startle response, but is clinically distinct from Tourette's Syndrome.

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