In the course of researching my next book, I came across the phenomena of “suicide baiting.” This sometimes happens when a crowd forms to witness individuals who are threatening to kill themselves by jumping from buildings and bridges. Rather than trying to talk the individual down, crowds have been known to encourage them to jump.
In his analysis of 21 cases of attempted and successful suicides by jumping where a crowd was present, Leon Mann found that baiting occurred in half the cases. He analyzed the various factors and concluded that crowd size, temperature and frustation of the crowd played a role.
Suicide bating is still a relatively rare occurrence (maybe because you don’t often get a crowd to witness serious attempts) but it does happen. Only yesterday Radio DJ Steve Penk was condemned for playing van Halen’s “Jump” on the radio as a request for a listener who was caught up in the traffic jam on the motorway that had been brought to a halt by a young woman threatening to jump from a bridge. Moments later she jumped.
It is highly unlikely she heard the song, but this incident does reveal the inherent nastiness of crowds and particularly commuters. If you read the comments left by readers, it is quite clear that a sizable number of people think that it was funny. I was recently on the underground Tube in London, when the driver of our train announced that there would be a delay as someone had jumped onto the track. To my surprise, my fellow travelers did not react with shock but rather, they were annoyed at the inconvenience this suicide had caused. I guess living in cities the size of London does that to you.
This callousness of the crowd is something that the sociologist LeBon (no not Simon) recognized back in 1896 when he described how people felt “savage” and “destructive” in groups. It was later termed “deindividuation” in Zimbardo’s infamous Stanford prison studies where individuals no longer feel personally or morally responsible for their actions when they are part of a group.
However, as we learned last November, suicide bating doesn’t always need crowds. Nineteen-year-old Rosimeiri Boxall, the adopted vicar’s daughter, fell to her death after being taunted to jump by two other teenage girls. I guess it is unbelievable the way humans sometimes treat each other.