Skip to main content Accessibility help

Quantitative exponential modelling of copycat suicides: association with mass media effect in South Korea

  • S. Suh (a1) (a2), Y. Chang (a3) and N. Kim (a3)



There is ample evidence media reporting of celebrity suicides increases copycat suicides. This study had three aims: (a) to quantitatively examine copycat suicides with exponential modelling that predicts the copycat suicide effect of South Korean celebrity suicides; (b) to investigate the association between media effect and subsequent suicides following celebrity deaths; and (c) to investigate the extent in which media influences the increase and rate of decline of copycat suicides following a celebrity suicide.


All suicides during 1991–2010 in South Korea were included in this study utilising a nationwide database. Fifteen celebrities were selected based on the frequency of media reports following 1 week after their suicide. The media effect was obtained through the Korean Integrated Newspaper Database System. Exponential curve fits and correlation analyses investigated the quantitative effect of copycat suicides.


After controlling for baseline number of average suicides, there was a marked increase in the number of suicides following each celebrity suicides, which followed an exponential model. There was a significant correlation between the total number of copycat suicides and number of media following the celebrity suicide (r = 0.74, p < 0.01). There were weak-to-moderate correlations between the amplitude of increase in suicides (r = 0.45, p = 0.09) and rate of decline (r = 0.38, p = 0.16) with the total number of media coverage.


Copycat suicides following celebrity suicides follow exponential modelling. Additionally, there is a strong media effect between the number of media reports following the days after celebrity suicides and subsequent copycat suicides. This may also be associated with the amplitude and rate of decline of copycat suicides. This suggests that improving media reporting and implementing preventative interventions for vulnerable populations may be important.


Corresponding author

* Address for correspondence: Dr N. Kim, Department of Radiology and Research Institute of Radiology, Asan Medical Center, University of Ulsan College of Medicine 88, Olympic-ro 43-gil, Seoul 138-736, South Korea. (Email:


Hide All
Cheng, AT, Hawton, K, Lee, CT, Chen, TH (2007). The influence of media reporting of the suicide of a celebrity on suicide rates: a population-based study. International Journal of Epidemiology 36, 12291234.
Fu, KW, Chan, CH (2013). A study of the impact of thirteen celebrity suicides on subsequent suicide rates in South Korea from 2005–2009. PLOS One 8, 17.
Fu, KW, Yip, PS (2007). Long-term impact of celebrity suicide on suicidal ideation: results from a population-based study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 61, 540546.
Fu, KW, Yip, PS (2009). Estimating the risk for suicide following the suicide deaths of 3 Asian entertainment celebrities: a meta-analytic approach. Journal Clinical Psychiatry 70, 869878.
Henrich, J, Gil-White, FJ (2001). The evolution of prestige: freely conferred deference as a mechanism for enhancing the benefits of cultural transmission. Evolution and Human Behavior 22, 165196.
Hvistendahl, M (2013). A new dawn for mental health. Science 339, 506507.
Jeong, J, Shin, SD, Kim, H, Hong, YC, Hwang, SS, Lee, EJ (2012). The effects of celebrity suicide on copycat suicide attempt: a multi-center observational study. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatry Epidemiology 47, 957965.
Kim, WJ, Namkoong, K, Kim, JM, Yoon, HJ, Lee, E (2013). Does a copycat effect exist in the emergency department? International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine 45, 5972.
Mesoudi, A (2009). The cultural dynamics of copycat suicide. PLoS One 4, e7252.
Niederkrotenthaler, T, Fu, KW, Yip, PS, Fong, DYT, Stack, S, Cheng, Q, Pirkis, J (2012). Changes in suicide rates following media reports on celebrity suicide: a meta-analysis. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 66, 10371042.
Phillips, DP (1974). The influence of suggestion on suicide: substantive and theoretical implications of the Werther effect. American Sociological Review 39, 340354.
Pirkis, J, Blood, RW (2001 a). Suicide and the media. Part I: Reportage in nonfictional media. Crisis 22, 146154.
Pirkis, J, Blood, RW (2001 b). Suicide and the media. Part II: Portrayal in fictional media. Crisis 22, 155162.
Stack, S (1987). Celebrities and suicide: a taxonomy and analysis, 1948–1983. American Sociological Review 52, 401412.
Stack, S (2000). Media impacts on suicide: a quantitative review of 293 findings. Social Science Quarterly 81, 957971.
Stack, S (2003). Media coverage as a risk factor in suicide. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 57, 238240.
Stack, S (2005). Suicide in the media: a quantitative review of studies based on non-fictional stories. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior 35, 121133.
World Health Organization (2008). Preventing Suicide: a Resource for Media Professionals. World Health Organization: Geneva.
Yang, AC, Tsai, SJ, Yang, CH, Shia, BC, Fuh, JL, Wang, SJ, Peng, CK, Huang, NE (2013). Suicide and media reporting: a longitudinal and spatial analysis. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 48, 427435.
Yip, PS, Fu, KW, Yang, KC, Ip, BY, Chan, CL, Chen, EY, Lee, DT, Law, FY, Hawton, K (2006). The effects of a celebrity suicide on suicide rates in Hong Kong. Journal of Affective Disorders 93, 245252.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences
  • ISSN: 2045-7960
  • EISSN: 2045-7979
  • URL: /core/journals/epidemiology-and-psychiatric-sciences
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed