Stockholm syndrome describes the 'irrational' bond between a captor and captives. It has been more than four decades since the name, coined by Nils Bejerot, was formally accepted into medical literature.

However, not everybody accept the existence of Stockholm syndrome as a genuine disease entity. For instance, Professor Nadine Kaslow of Emory University argues that there is lack of evidence to support the existence of the syndrome, and she further adds that it exists mostly in the media; Dr Arthur Brand of Brand & Kelton-Brand argues that it is a sort of adaptive behaviour to the new environment; Professor Jon Allen of Baylor College of Medicine and his colleagues as well as Professor Judith Herman of Harvard University suggest it be a complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Can someone shed light on whether there is fairly enough clinical evidence, referring to evidence based medicine, to support the existence of Stockholm syndrome?

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    Who is not everybody? An example of credible people who don't accept it would greatly improve your question.
    – Carey Gregory
    Dec 5, 2017 at 5:12
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    Thank you very much @CareyGregory for your thoughtful suggestion. I have added the names of a few scholars who cast doubt that Stockholm syndrome itself is a distinct disease entity. The Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) have not mentioned the syndrome as a disorder of its own as they have not outlined diagnostic criteria. However, Stockholm syndrome has been much talked about in the media! Dec 5, 2017 at 10:00
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    @LudwigWittgenstein Thanks for your edit. Could you link to articles where they doubt that the Stockholm syndrome exists? That would help any answerer
    – Narusan
    Dec 5, 2017 at 12:19
  • I don't think it makes sense to consider Stockholm Syndrome an illness in need of a diagnosis. It is a manifestation of a very old coping mechanism. If you use the Yanamano captive numbers, around 10% of women were subject to selection per generation. Those who accepted the situation became our ancestors. Those who did not died. Google capture-bonding henson to see what I have written about the subject. Dec 18, 2018 at 15:44

2 Answers 2


Stockholm Syndrome does exist. It has an exceptionally high face validity. It does have this attribute due to many case reports available in the non-medical newspapers. You see a pattern, you have a desire to name it.

The trick of taxonomy is trying to explain this behaviour pattern, many psychological theories stand at the ready:

Traumatic Entrapment, Appeasement and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Evolutionary Perspectives of Hostage Reactions, Domestic Abuse and the Stockholm Syndrome:

Evolutionary theory and cross-species comparisons are explored to shed new insights into behavioural responses to traumatic entrapment, examining their relationships to the Stockholm syndrome (a specific response to traumatic entrapment) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). […] The neurobiological basis of defensive behaviours underlying PTSD is explored with reference to the triune brain model. Victims of protracted traumatic entrapment under certain circumstances may display the Stockholm syndrome, which involves paradoxically positive relationships with their oppressors that may persist beyond release. Similar responses are observed in many mammalian species, especially primates. Ethological concepts including dominance hierarchies, reverted escape, de-escalation and conditional reconciliation appear relevant and are illustrated. These phenomena are commonly encountered in victims of severe abuse and understanding these concepts may assist clinical management. Appeasement is the mammalian defence most relevant to the survival challenge presented by traumatic entrapment and appears to be the foundation of complex PTSD. Evolutionary perspectives have considerable potential to bridge and integrate neurobiology and the social sciences with respect to traumatic stress responses.

To properly diagnose a new "syndrome" you need to measure "symptoms", and make comparisons to enable a differential diagnosis. One such scale applying the concept of "Stockholm Syndrome" to dating complications is presented here:

A scale for identifying "Stockholm syndrome" reactions in young dating women: factor structure, reliability, and validity:

But the whole process is hampered by the rarity in which subjects are scientifically examined compared to the media coverage if such a case is presumed to be present. That concept is now apparently highly attractive for lay persons to explain counter intuitive behaviour up to a point that Stockholm Syndrome now almost replaced the previously assumed intuitive behavioural response of intense hatred. That is the weakness expressed by different researchers in the question. Psychological and psychiatric symptoms, disorders and syndromes are highly influenced or even dependent on culture. (cf. DSM and homosexuality). At the moment the process of clearly defining Stockholm syndrome as a distinct category that is really sharply defined against alternatives and related concepts is not finished:

‘Stockholm syndrome’: psychiatric diagnosis or urban myth? The existing literature on the subject of ‘Stockholm syndrome’ is sparse; the majority of the literature is based on case reports with little reference to how ‘Stockholm syndrome’ was diagnosed and what, if any, is its significance in terms of management of victims. ‘Stockholm syndrome’ is rarely mentioned in peer-reviewed academic research.[…]
In summary, a systematic literature review has identified large gaps in research into ‘Stockholm syndrome’. Existing literature does very little to support its existence yet case studies demonstrate a possible pattern in the behaviour and experiences of people labelled with it. We found similarities between widely reported cases studies into hostage ⁄ kidnap victims that could be used as the basis for diagnostic criteria. We also suggest that labelling the hostage victim with a psychiatric syndrome makes their story more readable and more likely to boost media circulation. The mystery of the origins of psychiatric illness holds society with fascination; psychiatry does not deal in absolute values and definitions, it is easy for the media to have free reign with medical terms, such as ‘Stockholm syndrome’ that have, as yet not received comprehensive assessment and validating criteria.


Stockholm Syndrome certainly does exist. It is a manifestation of capture-bonding, an evolutionary psychology[1] term for the evolved psychological mechanism[2] behind Stockholm syndrome. John Tooby (then a graduate student at Harvard University) originated the concept and its ramifications in the early 1980s, though he did not publish.[3] The term is fairly widely used on the Web and has begun to show up in books. [4]

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." [5]

One of the "adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors," particularly our female ancestors, was being abducted by another band. Life in the human "environment of evolutionary adaptiveness" (EEA) is thought by researchers such as 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 . . ." [6] I.e., being captured [7] and having their dependent children killed might have been fairly common. [8] Women who resisted capture in such situations risked being killed. [9]

Azar Gat argues that war and abductions (capture) were typical of human prehistory. [10] When selection is intense and persistent, adaptive traits (such as capture-bonding) become universal to the population or species.

Capture-bonding as an evolutionary psychology mechanism can be used to understand historical events from the Rape of the Sabine Women to the hundreds of accounts of Europeans (mostly women) who were captured and assimilated into Native American tribes. Cynthia Ann Parker (1836 capture) is both an example of the mechanism working and it failing to work when she was captured again much later in life. Evolutionary psychology reasoning would lead you to expect that capture-bonding would be more effective at a younger age when there was more reproductive potential at risk. She did very well evolutionary terms because her son Quanah Parker had 25 children. Mary Jemison (1750 capture) was a very famous case. The last one (1851 capture) may have been Olive Oatman.

Partial activation of the capture-bonding psychological trait may lie behind Battered-wife syndrome, military basic training, fraternity hazing, and sex practices such as sadism/masochism or bondage/discipline. [11]


  1. "My contention, simply put, is that the evolutionary approach is the only approach in the social and behavioral sciences that deals with why, in an ultimate sense, people behave as they do. As such, it often unmasks the universal hypocrisies of our species, peering behind self-serving notions about our moral and social values to reveal the darker side of human nature. (Silverman 2003) Confessions of a Closet Sociobiologist: Darwinian Movement in Psychology http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/ep0119.pdf

  2. Consider the mysterious behavior of Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City in 2003 or that of Patty Hearst when she was abducted in 1974. In both cases, the victims bonded to their captors and resisted leaving them. The evolutionary origin of this psychological trait, known as the Stockholm syndrome (or more descriptively as capture-bonding) almost certainly comes from millions of years of evolutionary selection where our ancestors-usually our female ancestors-were being violently captured from one tribe by another. Those who had the psychological traits (ultimately gene-based mechanisms) that led them to socially reorient after a few days (i.e., bond) to their captors often survived to pass on the trait. Those who continued to resist, because they didn't have this trait, often became breakfast. Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War, Mankind Quarterly, Volume XLVI Number 4, Summer 2006.

  3. source: Leda Cosmides

  4. From Princess to Prisoner By Linda C. Mcjunckins http://books.google.com/books?id=f8lS3RMhv7oC&pg=PA211&dq=capture+bonding&sig=XT21yLbFDdm

  5. Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer - Leda Cosmides & John Tooby Published in Anthropological Quarterly, 73.2 (2000), 74-88.


  7. "The percentage of females in the lowland villages who have been abducted is significantly higher: 17% compared to 11.7% in the highland villages." (Napoleon Chagnon quoted at Sexual Polarization in Warrior Cultures)

  8. "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)

  9. "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)

  10. 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"

  11. Being captured by neighboring tribes was a relatively common event for women in human history if anything like the recent history of the few remaining primitive 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. Once you understand the evolutionary origin of this trait and its critical nature in genetic survival and reproduction in the ancestral human environment, related mysterious human psychological traits fall into place. Battered-wife syndrome is an example of activating the capture-bonding psychological mechanism, as are military basic training, fraternity bonding by hazing, and sex practices such as sadism/masochism or bondage/discipline. Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War, H. Keith Henson, Mankind Quarterly, Volume XLVI Number 4, Summer 2006.

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