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Understanding Stockholm Syndrome

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 76 Issue: 7 Dated: July 2007 Pages: 10-15
Nathalie De Fabrique Psy.D; Stephen J. Romano M.A.; Gregory M. Vecchi Ph.D.; Vincent B. Van Hasselt Ph.D.
Date Published
July 2007
6 pages
After explaining the origin and features of the "Stockholm syndrome," this article suggests how hostage negotiators can use the syndrome's dynamics to increase hostages chances of survival in hostage negotiations.
The term "Stockholm syndrome" was initially used to explain the phenomenon that emerged during the 1973 robbery of a bank in Stockholm, Sweden. The two robbers held four bank employees hostage in a bank vault from August 23 to 28. During their ordeal, the hostages became emotionally attached to their captors and even defended them after the incident was resolved without any deaths or serious injuries. The Stockholm syndrome occurs when hostages have positive feelings for their captors; hostages show fear, mistrust, and anger toward the authorities; and perpetrators develop positive feelings toward hostages. Most psychologists agree on the conditions necessary for the Stockholm syndrome to occur. First, a hostage cannot escape and depends on the hostage-taker for life. Second, the hostage is isolated from other people and is exposed only to the captor's perspective of the situation. Third, the hostage-taker threatens to kill the hostage, and the hostage takes the threat seriously. Fourth, the hostage views the hostage-taker as kind so long as the hostage-taker is not abusive to the hostage. Although these conditions necessary for Stockholm syndrome rarely occur, hostage negotiators should attempt to manipulate barricaded hostage situations so hostage-takers develop positive attitudes toward the hostages. In order to strike the balance necessary for successful negotiations, negotiators should show concern for the hostage-taker's welfare first before seeking to develop the hostage-taker's positive feelings for the hostages. 13 notes