RE: Is Suicide Contagious? A Case Study in Applied Memetics

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Wed Apr 18 2001 - 13:15:02 BST

  • Next message: Vincent Campbell: "RE: Is Suicide Contagious? A Case Study in Applied Memetics"

    Received: by id NAA10526 (8.6.9/5.3[ref] for from; Wed, 18 Apr 2001 13:18:34 +0100
    Message-ID: <>
    From: Vincent Campbell <>
    To: "''" <>
    Subject: RE: Is Suicide Contagious? A Case Study in Applied Memetics
    Date: Wed, 18 Apr 2001 13:15:02 +0100
    X-Mailer: Internet Mail Service (5.5.2650.21)
    Content-Type: text/plain
    Precedence: bulk

    >>The psychological state of suicide (or other states that relate to
    extreme behaviours) is (are) not contagious, IMHO.

            <Well, the US CDC, the Samaritans, contagion psychologists
    (including myself) and the vast majority of suicidologists disagree with
    you. >

            Lots of institutions, psychologists and criminologist equally
    believe pornography and media violence lead to sex crime and violent crime
    also. It doesn't mean they're right. There's a basic fallacy at work in
    the general hypothesis that suicide contagion research- at its simplest
    demonstrates. I know you're saying something more that though.

            < OR COURSE, nobody (I hope) believes that suicide is transmitted as
    a biological pathogen - rather contagion in the social sciences is defined -
    as you suggest - in terms of social legitimation - we use social proof (what
    other people are doing) to interpret situations (social cognition) and to
    resolve approach-avoidance conflicts. The evidence (suicide levels
    regularly jump significantly following media representations of suicide -
    like a 1000% increase in paracetamol overdoses following TV hospital soap
    portraying such a suicide )suggests that suicide contagion does occur, but
    this is very weak evidence because the correlation is made between unrelated
    group-level archival stats. >

            And indeed correlation does not imply causality. Performing suicde
    in a particular way may be influenced by media priming- which I believe you
    partly argue in your piece- but suicidal tendencies aren't.

            <The problem is therefore demonstrating the plausibility of the
    suicide contagion hypothesis ETHICALLY. All I have done here is increase
    the plausibility of the suicide contagion hypothesis by showing that our
    interpretation of situations as suicidal can be influenced by the presence
    of suicide around us.>

            Yes but isn't there a significant difference between having our
    interpretations of events shaped towards regarding them as suicidal, and
    commiting it? That's the big causal problem here. How do media images make
    people kill themselves? What's the causal mechanism? _or_ is something else
    going on?

            <To many, this may seem either obvious or trivial - but it has
    significant implications for health policy, and for the understanding of
    suicide itself.>

            Perhaps. Demonstrate causality, and you have a point.


    > Dr Paul Marsden
    > tel: +44 (0) 777 95 77 248
    > email:

    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)

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Wed Apr 18 2001 - 13:21:41 BST