Date: Fri 17 Jan 2003 - 06:49:49 GMT
> Subject: FWD [fort] Werther Effect
> The Werther Effect
> by Loren Coleman
> Copyright 2002
> The media calls it the "copycat" phenomenon, and suicidologists term
> it the "Werther Effect." In the 1980s, one outcome was "suicide
> clusters." Talking about suicide saves lives, and this is an entirely
> different matter. Prevention work has shown that discussing suicide in
> a framework of alternative modeling and protective factors does not
> "cause" suicides but prevents them. The Werther Effect, however, is
> another matter, and has much to do with the modeling of the methods,
> plus the isolation, impulsiveness, and hopelessness of the suicidal
> The Werther Effect was originally coined by Dr. David P Phillips, from
> a 1774 novel written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (the author of
> Faust) entitled The Sorrows of Young Werther. In this story, the
> youthful character Werther falls in love with a women who is promised
> to another. Always melodramatic, Werther decides that life cannot go
> on, that his love is lost. He then dresses in boots, a blue coat, and
> a yellow vest, sits at his desk with an open book, and shoots himself.
> In the following years, throughout Europe, so many young men dressed
> themselves as Werther and sat at a desk with an open book to shoot
> themselves that the book, The Sorrows of Young Werther, was banned in
> Italy, Germany, and Denmark.
> In the 1970s, Dr. Phillips conducted formal studies suggesting that
> the Werther Effect was, indeed, a reality, that massive media
> attention and retelling of the specific details of a suicide (or, in
> some cases, untimely deaths) could increase the number of suicides.
> The 1962 suicide of Marilyn Monroe is a classic case. One hundred,
> ninety-seven individual suicides in the following month may have used
> the Hollywood star's suicide as a model for theirs. The suicide rate
> in the US increased by 12% for the month after the Monroe suicide
> Suicides of celebrities are the most apparent illustrations. But
> historically, certain other celebrity examples of "hidden suicides"
> also come to mind, including that of James Dean's death, originally
> reported by the media as a car crash, but whispered about as a
> The Werther Effect from such well-publicized deaths does appear to
> have some impact.
> Before internet and cable news, the significance of stories in
> newspapers, on the radio, and via broadcast television news could be
> tracked rather well. In Dr. David Phillips' study on imitation and
> suggestion, immediately after publicized suicides, the rate of
> automobile fatalities also was found to have increased (Phillips,
> 1979). His study showed a strong correlation between the reporting of
> suicide and motor vehicle accidents. The more publicity the story
> received, the higher the automobile fatality rate. Interestingly
> enough, reports of younger suicide victims were followed by younger
> people dying by vehicle crashes and reports of older suicide victims
> were followed by older people dying by vehicle crashes. The direct
> "imitation," down to the actual age of the "imitators" of the
> publicized suicides was there in the data.
> Phillips found the correlation between the reporting of the stories
> and the increase in suicide rates at that time might be a result of
> imitating, modeling and suggestion by the drivers. Phillips examined a
> two week period beginning two days prior to the publicized suicide and
> ending 11 days later. The researcher found that automobile fatalities
> increased by 31% three days after a suicide was reported in the media.
> The increase appeared to also have a lesser seven day mirror peak, as
> Phillips (1979) maintains that there are no other variables involved
> in the increase in suicides. He reported: "The increase in the
> suicide rate was not due to the effect of weekday or monthly
> fluctuations in motor vehicle fatalities, to holiday weekends, or to
> yearly linear trends, because the effects were corrected for in the
> selection and treatment of the control periods, with which the
> experimental periods are compared" (p. 1159). It is also interesting
> to comment that the motor vehicle fatalities are most frequent in the
> region where the suicide story is publicized.
> The first book dealing with the copycat phenomena, Suicide Clusters
> (1987) notes the Werther Effect in other events besides suicides. The
> book is dedicated to David Phillips for his groundbreaking work that
> has gone largely ignored by most scholars.
> During the 1990s, however, Professor Riaz Hassan, a professor of
> Sociology at Flinders University, Australia, confirmed the links
> between reporting of suicides and further suicides. Hassan replicated
> Phillips' studies in Australia. He took his data from two major
> metropolitan newspapers with a national impact, between 1981 and 1990,
> and identified the stories that reported suicides. He then took the
> daily suicide rates between 1981 and 1990, and analyzed whether or not
> the newspaper stories had an effect on the number of suicides in the
> days following.
> Hassan defined his study by the "impact" and that "was measured by the
> location of the newspaper story, by the size of the newspaper story
> and headline and by a presence or absence of photographs."
> Summarizing Hassan's findings, according to Paul Herman (1996), they
> "show that the male suicide rates increased significantly in a three
> day period which included the day of publication of high impact
> reports and the two subsequent days. The female rate did not increase
> but the ratio between male and female suicide showed a significant
> skewing in high impact periods. The findings clearly suggest some
> association as far as males are concerned between the publication of
> the suicide stories in the two metropolitan papers and the suicide
> As anyone watching the media and the societal reaction understands,
> the suicide clusters of the 1980s were replaced by the school
> shootings of the 1990s, almost all conducted by suicidal male youth.
> The Werther Effect has merely shifted its impact as the media has
> shifted its focus.
> In unpublished studies and surveys I have conducted, research
> indicates the Werther Effect's impact and involvement may be evidenced
> in other media-discussed violence. For example, some school shootings
> situations have been followed by workplace violence, mass killings,
> and other dramatic suicides or accidents. Popular media writers
> tracking the school shootings have often missed the groupings of
> workplace violence or other incidents that take place three days, and
> in the week after the initial incident.
> Patterns still are very apparent in suicide clusters, and much can be
> discovered from looking at local clusters, as well as nationally
> publicized suicides and related events.
> As 2002 began, a dramatic event was noted by the media which serves as
> a vivid example. The well-publicized suicide of the 15 year old male
> youth (Charles J. Bishop, family name formerly Bishara) who crashed
> the stolen Cessna plane crash into the Bank of America building on
> January 6, 2002, was clearly modeled on the September 11th terrorists'
> suicide plane crashes. Furthermore, this Tampa plane suicide happened
> on a weekend in which several (17) plane crashes (with seven being
> Cessnas) occurred, with seven of them being fatalities. This is an
> unusually high number of small plane crashes. Some of these included
> apparent and overt suicides. Hidden suicides may have also taken
> place, but the data is unclear on this point.
> This Tampa incident was followed by events which appear to further
> illustrate the Werther Effect. Certainly, the dramatic suicide of
> another "CB", another Charles, a former British special forces veteran
> Charles Bruce, author of Freefall, when he jumped (without a
> parachute) to his death from another Cessna over the English
> countryside on January 8th, must be considered. Also, drummer Jon Lee
> from the Welsh rock band Feeder who completed his suicide in his
> Florida home, on January 7th, is worthy of noting, due to the
> More rigorous studies, in the future, should assist in unlocking many
> questions raised by the Werther Effect's relationship to suicide and
> related phenomena.
> Surveys and studies by Phillips, the CDC, and others, however, now
> calls forth that the addition of "protective factors" (hotline
> numbers, for example) to a news story, and the subtraction of graphic
> details of the methods used may actually decrease the effect of the
> media's impact on future suicides.
> Various citations for the Werther Effect include:
> Bollen, KA. and Phillips, DP. "Suicidal Motor Vehicle Fatalities in
> Detroit: A Replication," American Journal of Sociology: 1981: 87.
> Brent DA, Kerr MM, Goldstein C, Bozigar J, Wartella M, Allan MJ. An
> outbreak of suicide and suicidal behavior in a high school. American
> academy of child and adolescent psychiatry 1989; 918-924.
> Coleman L. Suicide Clusters. Boston, MA: Faber & Faber, 1987.
> Etzersdorfer E, Sonneck G, Nagel-Kuess S. Newspaper reports and
> suicide. New
> England journal of medicine 1992; 327: 502 - 503.
> Gould MS, Wallenstein S, Kleinman M. Time-space clustering of teenage
> suicide. American journal of epidemiology 1990; 131: 71-78.
> Gould MS, Petrie K, Kleinman MH, Wallenstein S. Clustering of
> attempted suicide: New Zealand national data. International journal
> of epidemiology. 1994; 23: 1185- 1189.
> Herman, P. Reporting of Suicide. Australian Press Council News. May
> 1996; 8, 2: 1.
> Jobes DA, Berman AL, O¹Carroll PW, Eastgard S, Knickmeyer S. The Kurt
> Cobain suicide crisis: perspectives from research, public health and
> news media. Suicide and life-threatening behavior 1996; 26: 260-272.
> Phillips DP. The influence of suggestion on suicide: substantive and
> theoretical implication of the Werther effect. American Sociological
> Review 1974; 39: 240 - 254.
> Phillips, DP. Motor Vehicle Fatalities Increase Just After Publicized
> Suicide Stories. Science 24 June 1977: 196.
> Phillips, DP. Suicide, Motor Vehicle Fatalities, and the Mass Media:
> Evidence Toward a Theory of Suggestion. American Journal of
> Sociology 1979: 84: 5.
> Phillips DP, Carstensen LL. Clustering of teenage suicide after
> news stories about suicide. New England journal of medicine 1986;
> Riaunet Å, Stiles TC, Rygnestad T, Bjerke T. Mass-media reports of
> suicide and suicide attempts, and the rate of parasuicide. I Bjerke T
> og Stiles TC. Suicide attempts in the Nordic countries. Trondheim:
> Tapir, 1991.
> Schmidtke A, Häfner H. Public attitudes towards an effect and mass
> media on suicide and deliberate selfharm. I RFW Diekstra. Suicide and
> its prevention: the role of attitude and imitation. Leiden: Brill,
> 1989: 311-330.
> Velting DM, Gould MS. Suicide contagion. I RW Maris, MM Silverman, SS
> Canetto (eds). Review of suicidology. New York: Guilford, 1997: 96-137
> ---------------------------- Loren Coleman Copyright 2002
> This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
> Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
> For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
> see: http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit
This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
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