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Physiological and Psychological Effects of Kidnapping and Hostage-Taking

NCJ Number
Police Studies Volume: 10 Issue: 2 Dated: (Summer 1987) Pages: 96-102
I K McKenzie
Date Published
7 pages
An analysis of the physiological and psychological effects of being kidnapped or taken hostage emphasizes the Stockholm Syndrome, the body's response to anxiety and stress, and the role of learned helplessness and presents guidelines for employers and family members regarding the kinds of responses and psychological help that victims need.
The Stockholm Syndrome is the positive bonding that hostages often develop with their captors. This bonding may be the result of an effort to deal with the anxiety and stress caused by being taken captive. The body goes through three stages in its reaction to stress: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Constantly facing a hostile and uncontrollable environment may lead to helpless and self-defeating behavior and ultimately to depression. Society cannot prevent all kidnappings or hostage incidents, but brief intervention with victims and their families may prevent or control lifelong difficulties. Counseling and the offer of psychological assistance and information for victims, employers, and their families are increasingly regarded as essential parts of the response to hostage and kidnapping incidents. Family members and employers should be prepared for the victim's reactions. Victims themselves need confidential counseling that is separate from the effort to gather evidence. 18 references.