Which syndrome describes a psychological condition in which hostages begin to identify or sympathize with their captor?

And the answer: Stockholm Syndrome.    
Photo credit: Tage Olsin

Stockholm Syndrome gets its name from a bank robbery and hostage crisis that began on August 23, 1973 in Stockholm, Sweden. The victims were held by their captor in the bank for nearly a week, until police burst into the building with tear gas on August 28. While in captivity, the hostages began to sympathize and relate to their captor, giving rise to the term "Stockholm Syndrome.”

49 years ago today, four bank employees in Stockholm were escorted out after 130 hours of confinement in a hostage situation. Yet, unlike most imprisoned victims of a crime, the four employees didn’t want to go. Over a period of six days in a small vault with their captors, Kristin, Birgitta, Elisabeth, and Sven began to exhibit one of the most public displays of Stockholm Syndrome the world has ever seen.

Interestingly, even when threatened with physical harm, the hostages reacted positively. Police reports cite the convicts and hostages’ “relaxed relationship,” which they believed would not result in harm. Evidently, in the vault, the hostages and convicts seemed to be somewhat… amicable. But outside the bank, the public felt differently. The hostages’ seemingly irrational attachment to their captors perplexed the public and the police, who even investigated whether two parties had plotted the robbery together. The day following her release, one of the hostages began to question the behavior herself, asking a psychiatrist: “Is there something wrong with me? Why don’t I hate them?”

Ultimately, the phenomenon which took place in 1973 came to be known as Stockholm Syndrome, a state of being which results in positive feelings towards one’s captors. It has since been cited in other hostage cases throughout the world, though no case has been quite as unique as this.

Learn more about Stockholm Syndrome here.


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