Hostage taking and negotiation

Hostage taking and negotiation

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Chapter 10

Hostage taking and negotiation

One area in which psychology appears already to have proved useful to policing is in the field of hostage taking and subsequent negotiation. These types of incidents are thankfully rare; however, when they do occur they can pose very real problems for both the police and the hostages. As we saw in Chapter 1, psychology has much to offer in understanding communication, and cases involving hostage negotiation allow special communication skills to be developed and employed. Although we will be talking mainly of situations in which hostages are being held, many of the principles underlying negotiation will apply in cases known as ‘barricades’ in which an individual is barricaded away and is threatening to harm him/herself. In what follows we will examine some of the ways in which psychology may be of help in dealing with this difficult area.

Types of hostage situations

There are a number of reasons why hostages might be taken. The main types of incidents that are likely to be encountered are:

1. Crimes that have ‘gone wrong’ in that criminals have been unable to escape and have ended up taking hostages.

2. Incidents whereby a hostage is taken and a ransom demanded, the primary motive being financial gain.

3. Incidents in which hostages are taken for mainly political purposes and in order to achieve some political end.

4. Domestic incidents in which one member of the family holds others hostage and threatens to harm others and perhaps him/herself.

5. Incidents in which individuals with a mental disorder take hostage people who they believe may be trying to harm them or against whom they have some kind of grudge.

6. Prison riots in which hostages are taken and demands made.

Although this probably represents the major types of incident, the categories are not mutually exclusive and may overlap. Nevertheless it is important to understand that there are a number of different types of

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hostage situations, each of which may have its own characteristics and dangers. The ‘rules’ by which each person in the hostage drama plays will differ significantly from one type of incident to another. Tactics that are useful in one type of incident may be less successful in another. Nevertheless as we will see in this chapter, there are a number of useful strategies and techniques that can be employed across different types of hostage situation.

Responding to hostage situations

Hostage negotiation is a specialised skill that is best carried out by those who have received adequate training and have built up experience in dealing with this type of incident. Nevertheless the reality is that the first on the scene of such an incident may well be a uniformed patrol officer with little if any experience of dealing with situations of this kind. The first officer on the scene can have an impact on the course of the situation and it is important that this officer does as little as possible to make the situation worse. Obvious examples would be further enraging an already distraught hostage-taker, or putting the person in a position whereby killing the hostages and perhaps him/herself seems like the best option. Noesner and Nolan (1992) have offered some advice as to how those first on the scene might best act. Much of this advice is concerned with ensuring the safety of the officer and those held, although other suggestions emphasise the need for the officer to do as little as possible in order not to inflame a delicate situation.

While police officers may be used to ‘wading in’ and dealing with incidents themselves, in this type of situation this course of action will rarely be appropriate. Indeed developments in the field of negotiation stem largely from an acknowledgement in the 1970s that there were alternative ways of dealing with such incidents, which did not involve the use of (often deadly) force. In one case in 1971 the FBI’s decision to storm a plane resulted in the death of two hostages and a hijacker. The intervention was followed by litigation in which it was claimed that the decision by the incident commander to use force was inappropriate (see Downs v U.S., 1975; Higginbotham, 1994). The new approach that was developed as an alternative to the use of force still stressed containment and an assessment of threat, but also emphasised how time and negotiation could be used effectively (McMains and Mullins, 1996).

Techniques used by negotiators

One of the things that negotiators will try to do is to present a model of calm behaviour to the hostage- taker. In doing so it is hoped that the hostage-taker will emulate this form of communication and a much better dialogue ensue. The first officer on the scene would do well to remember this and should avoid raising the temperature any further by shouting or behaving aggressively. The gathering of as much accurate information as possible about the incident, the hostage-taker and the hostages will be the most useful contribution that the first responder can make.

The Los Angeles Police Department have some of the best-developed and most experienced hostage negotiation teams. Their mantra is ‘Talk to me’. This sounds like such a simple notion yet it underpins a great deal of what the teams try to do. Thus one of the first objectives will be to establish communication with the hostage-taker and listen to what they have to say. There will be ample time later to use negotiation skills in which the person might be persuaded to do certain things, but for now the most important thing is simply to listen to what the person has to say. It is important from the outset that the negotiator tries to establish good communication and a rapport with the hostage-taker by, for example, using first names. Hatcher et al (1998: 455) suggest that the basis of the approach used in this type of incident can be described thus:

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Emotionality is driving the situation and the emotion-based solution that the hostage-taker or barricaded suspect chooses to resolve his/her problem can be shifted or modified given the right verbal and/or tactical strategy.

Although we will refer throughout this chapter to ‘the negotiator’ it should be noted that there will in fact be a number of people who make up the negotiating team. Typically there will be the primary negotiator, who establishes communication with the hostage-taker, but there will also be a secondary negotiator or ‘coach’ who can advise the primary negotiator or offer suggestions as to how to conduct the sessions. The reasoning here is that the primary negotiator may find it difficult to both talk to the hostage-taker and plan a strategy. By dividing up the tasks, the primary negotiator can concentrate on rapport building while someone else can stand back and monitor what is happening and suggest things that might be tried next. There will also be a scribe or journalist on the team who will monitor and record everything that is being said. The team will also often include a psychologist or mental health professional, especially in cases where the hostage-taker appears to be suffering from a mental disorder.

The role of the psychologist

McMains (1988) identified three roles that a psychologist can take in hostage negotiations, i.e. professional, consultant and participant observer. In the last of these the psychologist will tend to act as part of the team and offer advice or make observations via the secondary negotiator. In this scenario the psychologist may be able to identify and assess the various needs of the hostage-taker and offer advice on appropriate ways to build rapport. Those who believe that the psychologist’s role in all this is a glamorous one may wish to heed the comments of Super (1999: 415) who suggests that:

Psychologists may serve negotiators in any way that may be of assistance to them: from providing coffee and getting a coat, to scripting different approaches the negotiator may use.

Borum (1988) suggests that, whilst psychologists can provide useful advice to the team in terms of the negotiation, they may not be as effective as well-trained and experienced law enforcement personnel in conducting the negotiation itself. This particular research concentrated on scenarios involving mentally disturbed hostage-takers and it is unclear whether the same may hold true with other types of negotiations. Hatcher et al (1998) suggest that there are a number of different roles that psychologists can play, i.e.:

• Consultant/adviser • Integrated team member • Primary negotiator • Primary controller.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to the different uses of psychologists in each of these roles. However, Hatcher et al make the point that police officers will not necessarily welcome psychologists with open arms. These writers suggest that psychologists may have to wait to be invited to join the negotiation team and that such an invitation will depend upon mutual acceptance, professional credibility and an ability to function in the field. Police officers often maintain a high level of cynicism about the contribution that ‘outsiders’ can make and, as a result, a psychologist who claims to be an expert will need to prove him/herself before being accepted and gaining respect from police officers. As Hatcher et al (1998: 462) note:

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The psychologist’s credibility most often depends on the ability to provide critical, rather than just interesting, information.

Nevertheless, psychologists have been responsible for developing and evaluating many of the strategies currently employed in hostage situations (Butler et al, 1993). Psychologists may also have a contribution to make by helping the police to identify the sort of person who would make a good negotiator. For example, Getty and Elam (1988) used psychometric tests to identify those who would make successful negotiators. They found that successful negotiators had good verbal skills, a positive self-image, good reasoning ability and a high sensitivity to others. It also seems an obvious point that those who do not generally cope well with stressful situations are unlikely to perform well as negotiators.

The negotiating team and their responsibilities

Because the negotiator and coach will tend to be wrapped up in the negotiation itself, it is important that there is another person who can monitor progress and provide an objective view of the state of the situation. Thus a decision regarding if and when an attempt will be made to rescue the hostages will not be taken by the negotiators themselves. One reason why this might be important is that, in establishing good communication with the hostage-taker, the negotiator will build up a relationship with the person to a point where an objective assessment of what should be done becomes more difficult. It is often said that when one is embroiled in a tense situation it is difficult to step back and see the bigger picture. During the negotiations, the negotiator may start to empathise with the hostage-taker and not want to see them harmed even though they pose a real threat to others. Although the emphasis will be on negotiation and a peaceful resolution of the incident, there will need to be a back-up team of police officers who can make a rescue attempt at short notice, should this prove necessary.

The negotiator will encourage the hostage-taker to reveal why they have done what they have done, what it is that is distressing them at this point in time, and how they came to be in the position in which they now find themselves. Although the emphasis is on listening to the hostage-taker, the negotiator would use what are referred to as active listening skills. In doing this the negotiator lets the hostage-taker know that they are hearing what is being said, but also that they understand and are interested in what the person has to say. Active listening skills would include repeating what the person has said in order that the person knows that they have been both heard and understood. The negotiator will try to reinforce the hostage- taker each time they speak so that they are more likely to carry on speaking. They can also encourage more talking by asking open-ended questions (that require a lengthy response) rather than closed questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Asking the person to talk about how they are feeling will tend to produce a fuller response than simply asking, ‘Are you scared?’

The primary goal at this stage is the development of a personal relationship between negotiator and hostage-taker. Although ‘the negotiator’ will in reality be a team of people, it is considered important that only one person communicates with the hostage-taker directly. If members of the team need to communicate with the negotiator, they will do so by writing notes rather than speaking in order that the hostage-taker will continue to presume that there is a simple one-to-one conversation taking place. Steps will also be taken to ensure that there are no distractions (e.g. from police radios or telephones) so that once again the hostage-taker will come to believe that a genuine one-to-one communication is taking place.

Establishing good communication with the hostage-taker means that the person’s exact needs and demands can be established. In some cases the hostage-taker will be very clear and specific about what they want, but in others the person may be confused and imprecise. It is, however, important that the negotiator has a clear idea of what it is that the person hopes to get out of the situation. A hostage situation

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can be characterised as one in which the hostage-taker is trying to gain something. The taking of hostages gives the hostage-taker power and can thus be a reinforcer in itself. For someone who normally feels powerless and has little influence in the world, taking hostages can bring immediate rewards in terms of the person suddenly receiving a great deal of attention.

In some of the examples listed above it will be clear that the hostage-taker wants something that they do not currently have and that the negotiator has it within their power to secure this for the hostage-taker. Thus the foiled bank robbers who find themselves trapped in the bank with a number of employee- hostages may demand a helicopter in order to make good their escape. However, in many other cases the ‘needs’ of the hostage-taker will be much less specific. In some situations, simply knowing that the world is now aware of their grievance will be sufficient to make the hostage-taker feel that they have achieved something by their actions. Nevertheless the negotiator will need to persuade the hostage-taker that continuing to talk will lead to further ‘achievements’.

Negotiators will try to employ a number of techniques that are related to the ‘active listening’ strategy introduced above. For example, they may use emotional labelling in which they say to the person ‘you sound very angry right now’ and encourage the person to talk about this. Encouraging the person to talk can, over the course of time, wear them down, although in this case getting them to talk about their feelings serves another purpose. Allowing the person to talk about what they are feeling inserts another step between thinking about the issues and acting upon them. Once a person has told another why they are angry and has had their grievances listened to, a more normal and rational conversation becomes more likely. Although many hostage-takers will be in an angry and agitated state they may also be experiencing a great deal of anxiety about their situation and how it can be resolved. If the negotiator is able to lower the person’s anxiety levels, it will prove easier to have a rational conversation and to reason with the individual. The core purpose of this stage of the negotiation is to delay or ideally to prevent the hostage- taker from acting impulsively. In doing so it becomes less likely that the hostage-taker will act violently or aggressively.

Time is on the side of the negotiators and one of the most important qualities that they will need is patience. As noted earlier, playing the waiting game may not come naturally to many police officers. They will be used to responding to calls as quickly as possible and to taking swift action on arrival at an incident. These tendencies must, however, be reined in and the waiting game be allowed to play itself out. There is obviously great variation in the length of time that different types of hostage situations take to resolve. However, the average time taken to end these types of incidents is between six and eight hours. Of course some incidents can go on for several days, and can test the patience of the most patient of negotiators. It does, however, appear that if an incident lasts for more than five or six days, little is likely to be achieved by negotiation beyond that point. By this stage, all parties will tend to have reached entrenched positions and are unlikely to shift their stance no matter how long the incident continues.

It may be inappropriate to challenge the hostage-taker at an early stage with regard to some of their beliefs. In cases involving mentally disturbed individuals what may well be a delusion (e.g. about others persecuting the person) will appear very real to the individual concerned. Rapport is unlikely if the negotiator immediately challenges the hostage-taker over what may be their core beliefs. Dealing with people who have a serious mental disorder presents its own challenges and in such cases the advice of a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist is essential.

Part of the reason why it is important to monitor the course of the negotiation is to check whether things are progressing in a positive or a negative direction. Although the aim of the hostage negotiator is to bring the incident to a peaceful resolution, there will be times when this is simply not possible. Constant monitoring allows a decision to be made as to when negotiation must stop and action be taken. If, for example, the hostage-taker threatens to kill one hostage at a set time and shows no sign of changing this intention an operational decision will need to be made. Negotiators must be conscious of any ‘time imperatives’ that the hostage-taker is working around and try to have these changed. Similarly if the

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situation appears to be moving closer to what is referred to as a ‘violent action imperative’ (where the hostage-taker feels compelled to act) a quick decision will need to be taken.

Problem solving and defusion of the situation

Once things have calmed down a little the negotiator will try to move on to the problem-solving phase of negotiations. In some cases the negotiator may suggest certain courses of action to the hostage-taker but he/she may also ask the hostage-taker for suggestions as to what might be done next. In some cases the hostage-taker may be more likely to do certain things if they believe that it was their own idea. However, in other situations (e.g. where the person is so distressed that they cannot think rationally) it will be up to the negotiator to suggest a course of action. If the negotiator has been successful in establishing a good rapport, then the hostage-taker is much more likely to accede to the negotiator’s wishes.

The negotiator and the rest of the team may well have a plan that they can work to in order to achieve their eventual objective. They do, however, need to have a good understanding of the dynamics of the situation and the way in which a successful resolution is likely to be achieved. They may, for example, decide which areas they want the hostage-taker to talk about and which they do not want to discuss. They should have thought ahead to how they will respond to requests that the hostage-taker is likely to make. If, for example, the hostage-taker asks that a relative be brought to the scene, the negotiator will need to have an answer ready. In some cases, allowing the hostage-taker to speak to a relative may be helpful, but in most cases it will not. One problem with doing this is that the negotiator loses some control over the situation if they allow the hostage-taker to speak directly to another person. Having worked hard on developing a good relationship and in achieving some degree of control, the negotiator would need to think carefully before allowing a third person to be introduced into the interaction. If the negotiator does agree to this, it is advisable that the relative be advised as to what should or should not be said.

In the scenario described above we are starting to look at demands and concessions. As noted at the start of the chapter, hostage-takers do what they do for a reason and may have a firm idea of what they hope to achieve. Whilst perhaps stalling on the demands that the hostage-taker is making, the negotiator may offer smaller concessions in order to gain the trust of the hostage-taker. This can be important for a number of reasons. Firstly a negotiator who is perceived to be unhelpful and unwilling to do anything for the hostage-taker is not really ‘negotiating’ at all. However, if the perception is of a negotiator who may be willing to allow small requests, then a better relationship is more likely. In many cases it will be inappropriate to rule out any requests outright, but the negotiator will need to find a way of avoiding a direct response to some demands. This can be achieved by, for example, the negotiator saying that he/she will need to discuss the request with a senior officer or to consult with other authorities.

The second reason why allowing some concessions can be important is that the negotiator can use this as a form of bargaining tool. The negotiator may, for example, agree to a request for food to be delivered but only in return for some concession on the part of the hostage-taker. Thus one hostage may be released in exchange for the provision of food and drinks. We must bear in mind a point made earlier in respect of power and control. Although the hostage-taker is in a position of power in the sense that he/she has control over the fate of the hostages, the negotiator also has some degree of power and control over other things that the hostage-taker may want. The provision of food and drink is one obvious example, but there may be other things (e.g. the restoration of electrical power to a building) which might be used as bargaining chips.

The foot-in-the-door and other techniques

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Persuading the hostage-taker to do even one small thing is an important first step. There is a fairly well established principle in social psychology, which is concerned with the so-called ‘foot-in-the-door’ technique (Freedman and Fraser, 1966). This refers to the fact that if you wish someone to do you a large favour, you would be well advised to start by asking them a very small favour. Salespeople often employ this technique. Thus the door-to-door salesman does not open with a request that you buy £20,000 worth of double-glazing from his company. Far more likely will be a simple request for you to answer one or two innocent sounding questions. The skilled sales person will then gradually increase the demands that are made on you until the eventual ‘signing on the dotted line’. The demands should be in such small increments that each new request is not perceived to be a large step up from the previous one. The bottom line in all this is that if someone does agree to a small request they are significantly more likely to agree to other larger requests. Having done one small favour, there is some pressure on the individual to do further ‘favours’. In effect it provides justification in advance for agreeing to the larger request. As Aronson (1999: 197) notes:

Escalation is self-perpetuating. Once a small commitment is made it sets the stage for ever-increasing commitments.

One reason why the foot-in-the-door technique works is that people generally like their behaviours to be consistent. Thus agreeing to do something for someone else is likely to be followed by agreement to do something additional if the same person makes a similar request in future. There is also an element of self- justification here. For example, if you find yourself giving a sum of money to a charity you may justify your actions by saying that it is a worthwhile cause or that the person who made the request for a donation seemed like a ‘very nice’ person and you felt good about helping them. However, you may also justify your actions by saying that you gave to the charity because you are a generous sort of a person who believes that it is right to help others less fortunate than yourself. If this is how you explain your actions it does of course mean that future requests, even if they are made by a different charity, will be more likely to be agreed to. It is for this reason that some charities are eager to obtain lists of people who have already made donations to other charities.

Returning to our discussion of hostage situations, the negotiator can use the fact that the hostage-taker has agreed to a small request in future discussions. The negotiator may suggest to the hostage-taker that they are actually quite a compassionate person in that they did agree to let one terrified hostage go. The negotiator may play on the fact that, in order to maintain behavioural consistency, the hostage-taker should consider letting others go. If it is handled correctly, the ultimate act of surrender may be perceived as just one additional small step along a continuum of conformity. However, in order to achieve this, the negotiator will need to have convinced the hostage-taker that by surrendering they will not lose face completely, and may still maintain some dignity. As things start to move in a hostage negotiation, the hostage-taker’s demands may become less and less important to them. In this case, the ending of the incident without being harmed by the police will then take on much greater significance.

Although the foot-in-the-door technique appears to be well established, an alternative is the so-called ‘door in the face’ method (Cialdini et al, 1975). According to this viewpoint, if you wish someone to do a small favour for you it may be worthwhile asking for an extremely large and unreasonable favour first. Although you can be almost certain that this large request will be refused, if it is followed immediately by a much smaller request, the latter may be agreed to as it is so trivial compared with the initial outlandish request. Thus if you want a friend to lend you £5 you may start by asking them if they can lend you £1000. If the refusal is followed immediately by a request for £5 it may well be forthcoming. One may again relate this to the hostage situation. If the hostage-taker laughs at the suggestion that they should release all of the large number of hostages being held, they may see a request to release just one person as almost trivial by comparison.

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Does negotiation work?

The sorts of tactics described in this chapter appear to have a high success rate. In their recent review, Hatcher et al (1998: 456) state that almost 75% of these events are resolved through negotiated surrender, and fewer than 10% result in loss of life of the perpetrator through lethal force or suicide. Furthermore in another study it was found that only 3% of hostage incidents resulted in the killing of a hostage by the hostage-taker (Butler et al, 1993). The problem with such figures is that it is all but impossible to establish whether the successful resolution of the incident can be attributed entirely to the tactics and skills of the negotiation team. For example, it is possible that some proportion of hostage-takers would surrender anyway, irrespective of what was done or said by negotiators. Skilled negotiation involves the use of a large number of tactics, many of which are based on established psychological principles. Each of these techniques may well contribute something to the eventual outcome of the incident, but it would be all but impossible to demonstrate which particular technique was the most influential in a successful outcome.

As you will have seen throughout this book, psychologists often test their hypotheses by conducting carefully controlled experiments in the laboratory. The advantage of this approach is that it allows the researcher to control any extraneous factors and to investigate each variable systematically. Thus in the case of hostage situations a researcher might investigate separately a range of techniques used routinely in negotiations in order to establish which was successful and why. Of course in the real-life world of hostage negotiations, such luxuries’ are not possible. Hostage negotiation skills have been built up over many years, partly as a result of trial and error. Many of the techniques employed do, however, have their origins in carefully controlled psychological research.

A systematic evaluation of each component of the strategy used in the field would provide further information that could be invaluable to future negotiations. Knowing that something works is obviously important but equally it would be helpful to know why it worked and whether any refinements or improvements are possible. It is routine to hold debriefing sessions after each incident and to review the success (or failure) of the operation. However, a more systematic evaluation of the proceedings might allow us to make more confident statements as to the relative utility of different components. In the USA, the FBI have compiled a database of information gleaned from hostage negotiations and it remains to be seen whether this proves useful in refining and improving negotiation techniques.

Hatcher et al (1998: 469) suggest that, although hostage negotiation is a specialised skill, those psychologists with an academic and research background could make a valuable contribution to hostage negotiations by:

• Establishing relationships with hostage negotiation teams so that a programme of evaluative research can be carried out.

• Examining the skills and cognitive decision making strategies of successful negotiators and teams.

• Determining the relative contribution of screening and training in the development of successful negotiators.

• Assessing the decision-making processes of the hostage-taker and its relationship to his/her previous life experiences.

• Understanding in more detail the behaviour of hostages (especially where more than one hostage is taken).

Stress and danger in hostage negotiations

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We should bear in mind that hostage situations are, by their very nature, tense and dangerous events and all those involved are at risk. Although a negotiation team deserves praise for a successful outcome, the rescued hostages may carry the mental scars of their ordeal for many years. In one study (Vila et al, 1999) it was found that many children who had been held hostage in their school were still affected by their ordeal up to 18 months later. In this case, early intervention and careful monitoring were not sufficient to stave off symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in many children (see Chapter 8).

We should also bear in mind that negotiators may themselves be traumatised by their experiences. Although some hostage situations will result in harm to hostages and hostage-taker irrespective of what techniques are used, negotiators may feel themselves to be personally responsible for a bad outcome. They may even blame themselves for the death of a hostage despite being reassured that they had done everything that they could. For this reason, careful debriefing and the offer of counselling should be made available to negotiators. If negotiations have been protracted, the negotiator will have built up quite a close relationship with the hostage-taker and, in some cases, with the hostages themselves. As with the break-up of any relationship, adjustment may prove difficult in the short term. If, as in some cases, a negotiator holds him/herself personally responsible, coming to terms with the outcome may prove difficult.

The Stockholm syndrome

One curious finding to emerge from the analysis of hostage situations is that on some occasions the hostages appear to form quite a close attachment to their captors. ‘Common sense’ might lead us to predict that, once released safely, the hostages would feel a great deal of anger and contempt for their captors. However, in some cases the opposite appears to occur. The title of this syndrome derives from a bank robbery that took place in Stockholm, Sweden (Strentz, 1979). In this case, the robbery went wrong and the robbers took hostages and held them captive in the bank for several days. The situation was eventually resolved peacefully and the robbers arrested. However, when the hostages were questioned about their ordeal, many praised their captors and were concerned that they should not be harmed. Some were even reluctant to testify against their captors when they appeared in court.

At first glance this is a somewhat puzzling phenomenon although Strentz’s analysis sheds some light on the reasons for its occurrence. Strentz found that there was a relationship between the length of time that the hostage situation lasted and the likelihood of the development of the Stockholm syndrome. Other important variables appeared to be whether there was positive contact between captor and hostage, and the level of social interaction that took place between these two parties.

From a psychological viewpoint, the reasons for the development of the syndrome are perhaps quite easily understood. Although captor and hostage play very different roles in the scenario, over time, they may begin to share a common fear, i.e. that they will both be harmed or killed. Research carried out on those who survive disasters shows that they often form close bonds with one another following the incident. Facing death together appears to be a powerful catalyst for the development of a close relationship. Providing that the hostage incident ends peacefully, each party may be glad to have survived the ordeal and develop a mutual respect for their co-survivor.

Over time, the scenario becomes less one of hostage/captor but one of a cohesive group of people who need to get themselves out of a tense and difficult situation. In a way, the hostage-taker and the hostages come to form one ‘group’, whereas all those on the outside comprise a separate ‘group’ (see Chapter 2). A relationship will have been built up between captor and hostage and the relationship between the two will have changed. For example, over time, the hostage may come to be seen by their captor not just as ‘a hostage’, but rather as a real person with a name, and perhaps a family. Part of the role of the negotiator will be to try to change the way in which the hostage-taker perceives the hostages, the belief being that this will affect the likelihood of them being harmed. Over time, the hostages themselves may come to see

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the hostage-taker not as someone who is probably going to kill them, but rather as someone who held their life in their hands, but chose not to end it. In such a case, relief and gratitude may add to the positive feelings directed towards the captor.

The Stockholm syndrome remains an unexpected outcome of some negotiations although its appearance is by no means certain. In a number of cases, hostages feel nothing but hatred for their captors and in some incidents will harm or even kill their captors if given the chance. Nevertheless, what we have learned about the syndrome allows us to predict those situations in which it is likely to occur. In a recent analysis of skyjacking (Slatkin, 1998) it was found that there was a relationship between the development of the syndrome and the variables of time and social interaction. However, in this study, no relationship was found between development of the syndrome and the variable of positive contact between captor and captives (i.e. absence of abuse).

It is important that we understand the dynamics behind the Stockholm syndrome and the variables that are associated with its occurrence. When planning how to end a hostage situation, rescuers cannot assume that the hostages will want to get as far away from their captors as they can as soon as possible. It may be that hostages who show signs of the Stockholm syndrome will emerge alongside their captors, partly to ensure that they are not harmed by the police. In terms of the hostages, they may realise that they could easily have been killed by their captors but were spared. The fact that the hostage-takers chose not to harm the hostages may make it more likely that they will feel gratitude towards their captors and, as a result, not wish to see them harmed. Even after the rescue and the capture of the perpetrator, hostages and hostage- takers may stay in contact by corresponding while the hostage-taker is in prison.


In this chapter we have seen that the discipline of psychology has a great deal to offer those involved in the delicate art of hostage negotiation. Some of the more successful strategies used in such negotiations are devised from the results of psychological studies that have, in some cases, been carried out in a different context. However, we have noted that law enforcement personnel may not welcome psychologists into their ranks unconditionally. In order to gain acceptance and respect, psychologists need to demonstrate their utility in the field.

As an alternative to the use of force, negotiation is surely an avenue worth exploring. With increasing knowledge and experience of hostage situations, it is now possible to offer guidance on the sorts of techniques that are likely to be successful. Psychology can offer valuable insights into the way in which all those involved in this type of situation might behave. For example, Wilson and Smith (2000) suggest that a careful analysis of the rules and roles in terrorist hostage-taking incidents can provide a great deal of useful information. Some of the more unusual characteristics of hostage-taking scenarios (e.g. the Stockholm syndrome) can also be explained by reference to psychological principles. Bearing this in mind it seems likely that psychology’s contribution to this burgeoning field will continue to grow.

Further reading

Blau, T. H. (1994) Psychological Services for Law Enforcement. New York: Wiley. Hatcher, C, Mohandie, K, Turner, J. and Gelles, M. G. (1998) The role of the psychologist in

crisis/hostage negotiations. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 16, 455–472. Wilson, M. and Smith, A. (2000) Rules and roles in terrorist hostage taking. In. D. Canter, and L. Alison

(eds.) The Social Psychology of Crime: Groups, Teams and Networks. Aldershot: Ashgate.

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