Suicide Baiting

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.


Filed under General Thoughts, In the News, Radio

24 responses to “Suicide Baiting

  1. In the misery loves company department, I’m glad to hear that radio personalities in England are as F-ed up as they are here. Sadly, it doesn’t speak well of the world at large.

    As as someone who has spent 25 years among preschoolers of all varieties, I will go out on a limb and say that most people don’t start out life as nasty bastards. If preschool is any indication, and I think it is, then people start life wanting to play and eat tasty treats.

    A lot can go wrong between early childhood and commuting home from work.

  2. jacarandamimosifolia

    Hmm. I’m not sure where I stand on this (other than well back from the approaching train). If you’re going to commit suicide, there’s all kinds of ways to choose to do it – and many, I suspect, that don’t involve ruining thousands of other people’s day.
    We all get annoyed by traffic jams, whether they’re caused by road works or a multiple pile-up ahead. Same reaction.
    As to the ‘callousness of crowds’ and children, Lord of the Flies remains the definitive text, I’d say…

  3. IIRC, this is a big problem in Japan where commuter transport is already quite crowded.

    I sympathize somewhat with the commuters, though I would never actually shout out for someone to jump. If I were on a subway that was held up because someone had jumped on the track though? Depending on what day you caught me, I might feel a heck of a lot more irritation than shock… :/

    Where I most commonly experience “devindividuation” is when I am in an audience and I feel like the audience is supposed to clap or laugh or something, and nobody does. I feel awkward for a moment, and then I say, “Hey, even if I should react, there’s a hundred other people here who aren’t, so it’s not my fault…” heh…

    On a completely unrelated note, I was at the U of R baby lab yesterday and I tried to pass your regards to Prof. Aslin, but he was away at a conference or something. Sorry! 🙂

  4. teobesta

    In the same spirit, it also baffles me when groups of people (say in a train) will just witness but not react to somebody being attacked. It is a kind of an encouragement too, isn’t it?

  5. Steve Page

    jacarandamimosifolia, do you honestly think that people who are about to commit suicide are necessarily in possession of their faculties enough to worry themselves about ‘ruining thousands of other people’s day’?

    I’m not surprised that Penk would stoop to something like this; my only surprise is that he’s got as far as he has with so little talent. I guess there’s no accounting for taste.

  6. teobesta

    You’d really have to hate your family to commit suicide by jumping in front of a train in Japan though. Surviving family members are often stuck assuming the costs and they are not cheap.

  7. jacarandamimosifolia

    Steve – well, fair point, I was being a little callous I guess. But I think it’s simply a question of familiarity breeding contempt, rather than crowd-induced nastiness. If you travel regularly on the London Underground, it’s a more or less daily occurrence. As a country lad, Bruce would have found it unusual and upsetting, whilst his fellow passengers mostly just found it predictable and irritating. Anyway, it’s a dumb way to pick as, apparently, jumping in front of an oncoming underground train has an astonishing 67% survival rate…

  8. Wow. Talk about man’s inhumanity to man. I know that I can be a bitch, incredibly impatient with ignorance, and intolerant of stupidity, but the day when I see someone’s suicide as an inconvenience is the day that I should cut up my membership card to the human race.

    Traffic sucks. Commutes suck. A lot of things suck. But an individual who is suicidal does not think of such things. Consider, the individual who commits suicide by train–the train engineer is very often so scarred by such an event that he/she cannot drive any more as a result of PTSD. Did the person committing suicide say, “Well, I think I’ll ruin this guy’s life as well”? I doubt it.

    Suicide bating is abhorrent, and it clearly falls into the group mindset. But those who participate should ask themselves how far they are from the group mindsets that cause wilding (that phenomenon of gangs looking for someone to rape), or school bullying that leads to suicide, or even, dare I say, the pervasive mindset that allows for societal atrocities that are allowed by groups that choose to look the other way.

  9. teobesta

    Most people tend to forget that committing suicide isn’t usually a rational decision. At such times, those who jump in front of a coming train aren’t exactly thinking about how they may affect the life of those who might witness their act, be it the conductor or any children present. If it is a common occurrence on top of that, they are not likely to get the sympathy of the people whose life has been disrupted. This is probably what made me understand the meaning of a concrete jungle when I’d first moved to the West.

  10. I experienced this at 17 years old when all the kids on our dorm floor started picking on a student. They got out of hand.

    I have always called it “diffused responsibility” where the responsibility is felt by any given participator as minuscule depending on crowd size.

    I think sense of self blurs because it was never stable to begin with. We are primarily social animals.

  11. Not everybody stops at heckling though.

    …..remember this?

  12. Very sophisticated handles on the blog…

  13. Talking of sophistication and handles, here’s a dire joke….

    Woodwork teacher: What are you making, Jones?
    Jones: A portable, sir.
    Teacher: A portable ‘what?’, boy!
    Jones: I dunno, sir. I’ve only made the handle so far.

    …I’ll get me coat.

  14. Double grrrrrroooooaaannnnnn…

  15. Suicide baiting sounds as if it is a form of bullying, and bullying can be lethal. At my blog, I wrote about the Irish teenager Phoebe Prince who hanged herself in her bedroom closet after teenagers in the high school in Massachusetts that she attended bullied her relentlessly. Nine of them have now been legally charged, and Phoebe’s family has moved back to Ireland. On her final day, a teenage girl followed Phoebe home and urged her to kill herself. Phoebe went into her house and did.

  16. Tim

    “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.”

    Living on a planet the size of earth does that to you. The global suicide rate is something like 17 per 100,000 per year, and at 6.8 billion people on the earth, that’s 1.1 million per year, or 3100 per day. Anything happening at the rate of 2 per minute, nonstop, is just too excessive to get disturbed by. It’s a numbing rate. Unless it the victim has a personal connection to me, there’s no way I can get upset over something so, sadly, common.

  17. Pingback: Troll Psychology: A discussion on ‘internet bullying’ | The Daily Grind

  18. Louise

    Today’s metro shows an event over the weekend in which drivers were using social media to urge the man to jump.

  19. It’s not entirely unfair to react with annoyance rather than shock when learning that someone killed themselves in front of a train. That person decided that killing themselves was more important than the efficiency of a public system which serves thousands or millions. Ultimately suicide is a selfish maneuver which puts the rest of the world in pain (if you knew them) or inconvenience (if you were just on the train). If everyone reacted with shock over every dead stranger, we’d be dead from grief within 1 day.

  20. Pingback: What are some mind-blowing facts about social psychology? – askyfullofscars

  21. Pingback: What are some mind-blowing facts about social psychology? – askyfullofscars

  22. Pingback: What are some mind-blowing facts about social psychology? – miniptechblog

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s