The Werther effect reconsidered in light of psychological vulnerabilities: Results of a pilot study


L Pouliot, Brian Mishara, R Labelle.


textbfBACKGROUND: Findings from three decades of epidemiological studies suggest that media diffusion of stories about suicide is related to increases in suicidal behaviours in the population exposed to the media reports. However, we still know little about the psychological processes and personal vulnerabilities that prompt some people to engage in suicidal behaviours after exposure to media presentations of suicides. This cross-sectional study explored the possible impact of exposure to film suicide in normal young people. textbfMETHODS: Undergraduates from a university (mean age 23years) completed a questionnaire on exposure to suicide portrayal in fictional films, in which assessment of negative emotional and cognitive reactions resulting from exposure, as well as emotional reactivity, dissociation, thought suppression, and suicidal tendencies were made. textbfRESULTS: Of the 101 participants, 70% reported being distressed by the portrayal of a suicide in a fictional film. Among those, 33% stated they felt distressed about the portrayal for several days to several weeks. The majority of the affected participants (71%) indicated having been mentally preoccupied for some time by the portrayal and experienced intrusive memories (68%). Emotional reactivity and dissociation tendencies were significant predictors of the negative reactions to the suicide film they viewed. Participants who reported that the idea had crossed their mind to imitate the suicidal protagonist in the film were 3.45 times more likely to be suicidal and tended to present higher dissociation and thought suppression propensities compared to those who did not report these thoughts. textbfLIMITATIONS: The results showing possible influences of suicide portrayal in fictional film on suicide related cognitions were based on a survey methodology. textbfCONCLUSION: Results suggest that fictional suicide portrayals in the media may have a deleterious impact on viewers, and such impacts do not appear to be limited to people having a clinical profile of mental disorders, as previously assumed by researchers in the field. QUÉBEC CANADA GENRE HOMME FEMME JEUNE-ADULTE IDÉATION WERTHER-EFFECT IMITATION CONTAGION MÉDIA VULNÉRABILITÉ COGNITION ÉMOTION FICTION CINÉMA STRESS DISSOCIATION

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