BusinessInsider writes in Stockholm Syndrome could be a Myth:

The New Yorker's new profile of kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart makes an intriguing point about Stockholm Syndrome: It isn't a recognized psychiatric disorder.


"There is very little evidence to sort of validate that Stockholm Syndrome exists," Emory University clinical psychologist Nadine Kaslow told Business Insider. She added, "It is mostly talked about in the media."

Sniggle.net writes on the Stockholm Syndrome:

The Stockholm Syndrome comes into play when a captive cannot escape and is isolated and threatened with death, but is shown token acts of kindness by the captor. It typically takes about three or four days for the psychological shift to take hold.

A strategy of trying to keep your captor happy in order to stay alive becomes an obsessive identification with the likes and dislikes of the captor which has the result of warping your own psyche in such a way that you come to sympathize with your tormenter!

Of course sometimes women fall in love with captors. But does that happen more often than the base rates of falling in love with strangers with whom they spend a similar amount of time but where the stranger doesn't hold them in captivity?

Is there scientific evidence that the Stockholm Syndrome is a real effect?

  • By no means conclusive, but worth noting that Wikipedia on Stockholm Syndrome doesn't mention that there is any notable doubt of it's existence, and also discusses a theorised explanation that it could have evolved in hunter/gatherer cultures, which it says might also link to other modern behaviours like hazing, BDSM and military basic training. It appears at a glance to be quite well referenced, including among others an FBI publication (although the link is broken). – lvc Oct 25 '15 at 11:20
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    I think it's quite a large leap from having sympathy for a captor and falling in love. Also, why do you specifically mention women — does any source make gender-specific claims? – gerrit Oct 25 '15 at 11:30
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    @gerrit : Kristin Ehnemark is a woman. Patty Hearst as well. Those happen to be the two most prominent examples given. I don't think "sympathy for a captor" is the same as "obsessive identification with the likes and dislikes of the captor" and that the second is a reasonable word for love. – Christian Oct 25 '15 at 13:30
  • I always found the entire concept rather absurd. There are loads of scenarios and methods that will induce people to bond. This bonding is no less real or true than any other. Veterans who speak of how their brothers in arms were a family to them, are not suffering from Brothers in Arms Syndrome. While S.S. is continually portrayed as hysterical victims acting crazily. – Jonathon Nov 24 '15 at 19:40

This paper from 2007 authored by M. Namnyak, N. Tufton, R. Szekely, M. Toal, S. Worboys, E. L. Sampson concludes (shamelessly copied from the paper):

  • the diagnosis is not described in any international classification system
  • the existing literature consists mostly of case reports
  • there is ambiguity in the use of the term
  • no validated diagnostic criteria have been described
  • existing literature is of limited research value and does little to support "Stockholm syndrome" as a psychiatric diagnosis.

Especially as "Stockholm Syndrome" is not part of any medical diagnostics catalog it is obvious not an accepted medical condition as of now. But the paper also states that there were common behavioral patterns in between the different case studies reviewed by the authors. Furthermore, the authors also state that the current literature is small and consists mostly of case reports. Thus, more research in this area might yield a proper diagnosis. But at the moment it is not a medical condition by definition.

Looking at the Wikipedia page for PTSD and comparing it the one for Stockholm Syndrome supports the claim that it is not officially accepted as a medical condition as no ICD number is given. Searching through the icd10 at the who homepage does not yield any entries for "Stockholm Syndrome" or "Stockholm" at all.

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    I don't think the main claim rests of whether the official name is "Stockholm Syndrome" or whether there's an ICD number for it. There are also plenty of psychological effects that aren't accepted medical conditions with ICD numbers. The hindsight bias for example is well established but has no ICD number. – Christian Oct 25 '15 at 13:33
  • @Christian If something is not an accepted medical condition it has to be considered to be in the realm of myth for the time being. Additionally, a hindsight bias is not a 'syndrome' as in medical condition but rather a psychological phenomenon, therefore there is no need for it to has an ICD number to be considered a valid phenomenon. You should improve on your question, especially your heading if my answer does not address your actual question. – Sim Oct 25 '15 at 13:50
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    The headline asked whether the thing commonly called "Stockholm Syndrome" is a real effect. It doesn't ask whether that effect is recognized as a syndrome. – Christian Oct 25 '15 at 13:53
  • @Christian I think I understand what you mean. Please include a definition what kind of answer you would accept. As I assumed that if something is not accepted in (medical) science then one would have to assume that it is not a real (read: accepted) effect as for now. Furthermore, please consider that the scientific literature seems to be ambiguous in using the term. – Sim Oct 25 '15 at 14:03
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    @Sim : I want evidence that I can use to convince a reasonable person who believes that Stockholm syndrome is more than a myth that it isn't. Wikipedia for example says "The FBI's Hostage Barricade Database System shows that roughly eight percent of victims show evidence of Stockholm syndrome". That's suggest to a casual observer that there is more than a myth. – Christian Oct 27 '15 at 12:59

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