Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine
Does Stockholm Syndrome exist? © Getty Images

Does Stockholm Syndrome exist?

Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

This controvertial phenomenon could be a rational reaction to traumatic circumstances, but it’s still up for debate.

Asked by: Mary Lennard, Doncaster


Reports earlier this year that some of the girls kidnapped by Islamist militants in Nigeria wanted to stay with their captors led to claims they were experiencing Stockholm Syndrome. This was a reference to a phenomenon first noted following a failed bank robbery in Stockholm in August 1973. Police negotiators found that the hostages had formed a positive bond with their captors. This led to claims that their fear and loss of control had led to even small acts of kindness triggering irrational levels of gratitude.

However, following her release, one of the hostages insisted their response was a rational way of responding to the situation, increasing their survival chances. Considerable doubt still surrounds the existence of Stockholm Syndrome, and it is not recognised by official psychiatric diagnostic handbooks.


Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.


Robert is a science writer and visiting professor of science at Aston University.


Sponsored content