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Stockholm Syndrome

 

Explanations > Theories > Stockholm Syndrome

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

When hostages are taken, some may begin to have positive feelings towards their captors, which can include love and adoption of the captors' beliefs. They may defend the captors, both verbally and even physically.

The name comes from the robbery of the Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm, where bank employees were held hostage for six days in 1973. Authorities were surprised when the hostages showed attachment to their captors, even defending the captors' actions. The name 'Stockholm Syndrome' was first used by criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot, who helped the police during this period.

The reasons for hostages to act this way may start with them acting in a sympathetic way in order to seek mercy from their captors. They may then change their beliefs in order sustain internal consistency between actions and beliefs. This would be supported if the captors reciprocate civil behavior.

The effect may be related to fear of police action that threatens everyone, including hostages. Hostages may hence identify with captor anger at police and agree with their anger.

It is also possible that those who show concern for their captors are simply displaying a common humanity where they have concern for all people. This may be triggered as a reaction against others who frame the captors as unremittingly evil. From a psychoanalytic viewpoint, it seems related to transference.

The Stockholm Syndrome seems likely to take hold when people are held hostage for long periods and their fear gives way to something more tolerable. It may also be more common in people who admire strength and maybe have been influenced by a dominant father.

The same effect may apply when anyone is incarcerated with others who have control over them, including abductees, prisoners, cult members, battered spouses and so on.

It has been suggested that Stockholm Syndrome happens on a societal level, where a patriarchal culture leads to women bonding with dominant men.

According to a 2009 FBI report, only 8% of victims develop some kind of regard for their captors. Three critical factors are also identified:

  1. A significant length of time must pass before the symptoms appear (typically several days).
  2. The hostages and the captors must sustain human contact.
  3. The captors must treat the hostages well, or at least not abuse or threaten them.

Societal Stockholm Syndrome refers to the principle being found in general society, typically in the way women sometimes view men, and can be seen in abusive relationships where the abused person will still stand up for their abuser.

The Stockholm Syndrome is also known as Survival Identification Syndrome, Common Sense Syndrome, Terror-Bonding or Traumatic Bonding.

'Lima Syndrome' is a reverse effect, where captors feel sympathy towards their hostages. This is named after a 1966 abduction at the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru.

Research

Very little research has been done on this subject as noted by Namnyak et al., most of which is case reporting and no validated diagnostic criteria were described.

News reports describe similarity between incidents, but journalists tend to be motivated to find similarity to previous incidents rather than test a psychological condition.

Example

A famous case is heiress Patty Hearst, who was kidnapped by the 'Symbionese Liberation Army' in 1974 and later took an active part in a robbery with them.

So What?

If you are ever taken hostage, act in a sympathetic way towards your captors to get a reciprocal kindness, but guard against developing supporting beliefs.

See also

Reciprocity Norm, transference

References

Bejerot, N. (1974). The six day war in Stockholm, New Scientist, 61, no. 886, 486-487

Burke, T. (2009). Stockholm Syndrome. In Janet K. Wilson (Ed.), The Praeger Handbook of Victimology, (p. 266). Santa Barbara, California: Praeger.

Fuselier, G.D. (1999). Placing the Stockholm Syndrome in Perspective, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, July 1999, 22-23

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