Stockholm syndrome

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Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.[1][2] The FBI's Hostage Barricade Database System shows that roughly eight percent of victims show evidence of Stockholm syndrome.[3]

Stockholm syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes "strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other."[4] One commonly used hypothesis to explain the effect of Stockholm syndrome is based on Freudian theory. It suggests that the bonding is the individual's response to trauma in becoming a victim. Identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. When a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be perceived as a threat.[5]

Stockholm syndrome is sometimes erroneously referred to as Helsinki syndrome.[6][7]


Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg, Stockholm, Sweden.

Stockholm syndrome is named after the Norrmalmstorg robbery of Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm, Sweden. During the crime, several bank employees were held hostage in a bank vault from August 23 to 28, 1973, while their captors negotiated with police. During this standoff, the victims became emotionally attached to their captors, rejected assistance from government officials at one point, and even defended their captors after they were freed from their six-day ordeal.[8]

The term was coined by the criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot, consultant psychiatrist to the police when it happened. He called it "Norrmalmstorgssyndromet" (Swedish), directly translated as The Norrmalmstorg Syndrome, but then later became known abroad as the Stockholm syndrome.[9] It was originally defined by psychiatrist Frank Ochberg to aid the management of hostage situations.[10]

Evolutionary psychology explanations

In the view of evolutionary psychology, "the mind is a set of information-processing machines that were designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors."[11]

One of the "adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors", particularly females, was being abducted by another band. Life in the "human environment of evolutionary adaptiveness" (EEA) is thought by researchers such as Israeli military historian Azar Gat to be similar to that of the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies. "Deadly violence is also regularly activated in competition over women. . . . Abduction of women, rape, ... are widespread direct causes of reproductive conflict ..."[12] Being captured[13] and having their dependent children killed might have been fairly common.[14] Women who resisted capture in such situations risked being killed.[15]

Azar Gat argues that war and abductions (capture) were typical of human pre-history.[12] When selection is intense and persistent, adaptive traits (such as capture-bonding) become universal to the population or species.

Partial activation of the capture-bonding psychological trait may lie behind battered-wife syndrome,[16] military basic training, fraternity hazing, and sex practices such as sadism/masochism or bondage/discipline.[17] Being captured by neighbouring tribes was a relatively common event for women in human history, if anything like the recent history of the few remaining tribes. In some of those tribes (Yanomamo, for instance) practically everyone in the tribe is descended from a captive within the last three generations. Perhaps as high as one in ten of females were abducted and incorporated into the tribe that captured them.[17]

Extension to other scenarios

There is no widely agreed upon diagnostic criteria to identify Stockholm Syndrome and it does not appear in the DSM or the ICD. However, studies have found evidence of emotional bonding with captors in a variety of hostage or abusive situations, including abused children and women, POWs, cult members, incest victims, and concentration camp prisoners. In Nazi Germany in the 1930s some Jews were allegedly shouting "Down with Us"[18] and supported Hitler's policies.[19] The syndrome is encouraged in crime situations because it can increase the hostages' chances for survival, but those experiencing it are usually not very cooperative during rescue or prosecution. Several symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome have been identified in the following: positive feelings toward the controller, negative feelings toward the rescuers, supportive behavior by the victim helping the abuser, and lack of desire by the victim to be rescued.[20][21]

Similarly named syndromes

Lima syndrome

A converse of Stockholm syndrome called Lima syndrome has been proposed, in which abductors develop sympathy for their hostages. There are many reasons why Lima Syndrome can develop in abductors. Sometimes when there are multiple abductors, one or more of them will start to disagree with what they are doing and influence one another. An abductor may also have second thoughts or experience empathy towards their victims.

Lima Syndrome was named after an abduction at the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru, in 1996, when members of a militant movement took hostage hundreds of people attending a party at the official residence of Japan's ambassador. Within a few hours, the abductors had set free most of the hostages, including the most valuable ones, owing to having sympathy towards them.[22][23]

In popular culture


  • In the musical film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) 6 brothers of a man who just got married decide to kidnap 6 women to marry them after reading about the Sabine Women. The women eventually fall for their captors.
  • In the independent film noir movie Something Wild (1961) the protagonist Mary Ann is held captive until she escapes, only to return to her captor and marry him.
  • In the opening sequence of Never Say Never Again (1983) James Bond is "killed" in a training exercise by a prisoner he has released, since he does not anticipate that she might be suffering from Stockholm syndrome.
  • In Die Hard (1988), a book author, Dr. Hasseldorf, expresses his view that "by this time, the hostages should be going through the early stages of the Helsinki syndrome."
  • Catchfire (1990), with Jodie Foster and Dennis Hopper.
  • Beauty and the Beast (1991), animated Disney film about a young girl who falls in love with her captor.
  • The Chase (1994), with Charlie Sheen.
  • Excess Baggage (1997) with Benicio Del Toro and Alicia Silverstone.
  • Out of Sight (1998), where a bank robber (George Clooney) breaks out of jail and has an attraction with a US Marshall (Jennifer Lopez) he has kidnapped, and she reciprocates, later having sex with him and letting him leave although she is a federal agent and he is a known fugitive.
  • Buffalo '66 (1998), where a dance student, Layla (Christina Ricci), is kidnapped by a man just so she can be taken home and be shown off to his parents. She eventually falls for him.
  • The World Is Not Enough (1999), Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), was abducted by Renard (Robert Carlyle) in the past, and have developed feelings for each other by the time the film takes place. James Bond initially deduces that Elektra is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, but Elektra later reveals that she seduced Renard, who appears to suffer from Lima Syndrome.
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
  • In Bandits (2001), Kate Wheeler (Cate Blanchett) falls for the two bank robbers (Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton) who have kidnapped her.
  • In Perfect Strangers (2003), a woman who realizes that she is kidnapped, gradually starts to fall for her captor (Sam Neill).
  • National Treasure (2004) Abigail Chase is kidnapped as Ben Gates steals the declaration of Independence, the two fall in love as they together hunt for the eponymous "National Treasure."
  • In Tentacolino (2004) the main characters develop Stockholm syndrome after they form a bond with the Atlanteans, who keep them in their city forever.
  • In the remake of King Kong (2005), Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) fears the ape at first but slowly develops feelings toward the creature and even attempts to save it.
  • Captivity (2007), with Elisha Cuthbert.
  • Red (2010), with Bruce Willis.
  • In Time (2011), with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried.
  • In Pawn Shop Chronicles (2013) the abductor makes the women love him, one of the women even betraying her husband.
  • Black Ice (2014), a girl, who becomes kidnapped and held hostage while being stranded on an icy mountain, falls in love with one of her captors.
  • Highway (2014 Hindi film), Veera Tripathi (Alia Bhatt) gets kidnapped by Mahabir Bhati (Randeep Hooda) and eventually fall for each other. Both have a troubled childhood instead of coming from very different socio-economic background. They confide and find sollace in each other.
  • In Stockholm, Pennsylvania (2015) with Saoirse Ronan and Cynthia Nixon, a six year old (Ronan) is kidnapped and confined to basement for 17 years, then reunited with family.
  • In Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, a fictional actress was kidnapped by a superhero that became a villain. Later, at another episode, after a relationship based on letters and visits, she helped him to escape from jail and to get his revenge.
  • In Heist (2015) with Jeffrey Dean Morgan, a bus driver assists a fugitive (Morgan) to escape.


J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun's protagonist Jim Graham supposedly develops Stockholm syndrome in a Japanese detention camp.

Lucy Christopher's Stolen protagonist Gemma develops Stockholm Syndrome for her captor Ty.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett is a fictionalization loosely based on the Japanese embassy hostage crisis, in which a sort of Stockholm syndrome intertwines with the Lima syndrome associated with that event.


In the video game PAYDAY 2, there is an available skill in the "Mastermind" tree called Stockholm Syndrome, which gives civilians (who are typically held hostage if not freed by police units or left unattended long enough) a chance to revive downed players and give them more weapon ammunition.

In the popular video game Grand Theft Auto V, there is a section of the game when protagonist Trevor Phillips kidnaps Patricia, wife of Martin Madrazo. The two begin a romance and protagonist Michael refers to this as 'Stockholm Syndrome.'

In the original PlayStation game Lunar: Silver Star Story, the heroine Luna is kidnapped by the antagonist Ghalion. Later in the game it is found out that Ghalion manipulated Luna for his own dark magic.


In music, many bands have published songs named "Stockholm Syndrome", such as That Handsome Devil, Yo La Tengo, Muse, blink-182, CLMD, and One Direction.

See also

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  3. G. Dwayne Fuselier, "Placing the Stockholm Syndrome in Perspective". ..FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin... July 1999, 22–25.
  4. Dutton, D.G and Painter, S.L. (1981) Traumatic Bonding: the development of emotional attachments in battered women and other relationships of intermittent abuse. Victimology: An International Journal, 1(4), pp. 139–155
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  8. Fitzpatrick, Laura (August 31, 2009). "Stockholm Syndrome" Time
  9. Nils Bejerot: The six day war in Stockholm New Scientist 1974, volume 61, number 886, page 486-487
  10. Ochberg, Frank "The Ties That Bind Captive to Captor", Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2005
  11. Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer – Leda Cosmides & John Tooby
  12. 12.0 12.1 Published in Anthropological Quarterly, 73.2 (2000), 74–88. The Human Motivational Complex: Evolutionary Theory and the Causes of Hunter-Gatherer Fighting, Azar Gat Part II: Proximate, Subordinate, and Derivative Causes"
  13. "The percentage of females in the lowland villages who have been abducted is significantly higher: 17% compared [with] 11.7% in the highland villages." (Napoleon Chagnon quoted at Sexual Polarization in Warrior Cultures)
  14. "Elena Valero, a Brazilian woman, was kidnapped by Yanomamo warriors when she was eleven years old. ... But none were so horrifying as the second [raid]: 'They killed so many.' ... The man then took the baby by his feet and bashed him against the rocks ..." (Hrdy quoted in Sexual Polarization in Warrior Cultures)
  15. "The Shaur and Achuar Jivaros, once deadly enemies. ... A significant goal of these wars was geared toward the annihilation of the enemy tribe, including women and children. ... There were, however, many instances where the women and children were taken as prisoners ... A woman who fights, or a woman who refuses to accompany the victorious war-party to their homes and serve a new master, exposes herself to the risk of suffering the same fate as her men-folk." (Up de Graff also in Sexual Polarization in Warrior Cultures)
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  18. Robert Gessner, Some of my best friends are Jews (New York, 1936), p. 81; Matthias Hambrock
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  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain: Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

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