Psychological Medicine

Research Article

The Werther effect after television films: new evidence for an old hypothesis

A. Schmidtkea1 and H. Häfnera1 c1

a1 Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, FRG


In this study it was possible to prove the Werther effect in suicides after watching fictional models for the first time. A twice-broadcast (1981, 1982) six-episode weekly serial showing the railway suicide of a 19-year-old male student provided a quasi-experimental ABABA design to investigate differential effects of suicide imitation. Imitation effects were most clearly observable in the groups whose age and sex were closest to those of the model. Over extended periods (up to 70 days after the first episode), the number of railway suicides increased most sharply among 15- to 19-year-old males (up to 175%); the effect steadily decreased in the older age groups, so that no effect was observable for males over 40 years and females over 30 years. Also, the imitation effects remained detectable for longer periods in the groups closest in age to the model. The increases observed after the first and second broadcast for males aged > 30 years closely corresponded with the respective audience figures for the two showings.


c1 Address for Correspondence: Dr A. Schmidtke, Unit of Clinical Psychology, Psychiatric Clinic of the University of Würzburg, Füchsleinstrasse 15, D-8700 Würtzburg, FRG.