‘Stockholm syndrome’: psychiatric diagnosis or urban myth?


Elizabeth L Sampson, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Hampstead Campus, Royal Free and University College Medical School, Rowland Hill Street, London, NW3 2PF, UK.
E-mail: e.sampson@medsch.ucl.ac.uk


Objective:  ‘Stockholm syndrome’ is a term used to describe the positive bond some kidnap victims develop with their captor. High-profile cases are reported by the media although the diagnosis is not described in any international classification system. Here we review the evidence base on ‘Stockholm syndrome’.

Method:  Databases (PubMED, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL) were systematically searched. We compared features of cases widely reported in the English language media to identify common themes which may form a recognizable syndrome.

Results:  We identified 12 papers that met inclusion criteria. The existing literature consists mostly of case reports; furthermore there is ambiguity in the use of the term. No validated diagnostic criteria have been described. Four common features were found between the five cases studied.

Conclusion:  There is little published academic research on ‘Stockholm syndrome’ although study of media reports reveals similarities between well publicized cases. This may be due to reporting and publication bias.