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On the Relevance of Phantasy for the Genesis of School Shootings

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On the Relevance of Phantasy for the Genesis of School Shootings

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Abstract

School shooters use violent phantasies to compensate for psychosocial injuries, a perceived lack of reference figures and missing viable perspectives in their social reality. These phantasies intensify over years and become more detailed as the shooting draws closer. As the mental images become more specific, shooters often become buttressed by a distorted sense of what is just or moral, such as the need to avenge a perceived offense or the belief in a divine right to decide the fate of others. In their personal view, school shootings appear as means to gain control, a sense of masculinity, and recognition. Although they may at first hide their destructive phantasies out of fear of rejection, they increasingly feel a need to express them. They begin to leak their thoughts and plans to friends, chat rooms, and even media outlets. Distinguishing extreme violent phantasies from harmless daydreaming can enable parents, teachers, social workers, and other trusted adults to intervene months before a school shooting. These adolescents need help to build protective factors: social prospects, a pro-social self-image, and strong relationships with peers, teachers, and other adults. Strong pro-social relationships enable them to find a sense of bonding with society and also help them to find solutions for seemingly insoluble problems and to reduce their subjective need for violent compensatory phantasies.

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... Newman, Fox, Harding, Mehta, & Roth, 2004;Verlinden, Hersen, & Thomas, 2000). The perpetrators may, for example, become fixated on violent fantasies concerning previous cases (Kiilakoski & Oksanen, 2011;Robertz, 2013). ...
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In aftermath of the school shootings in Finland (2007 and 2008), hundreds of schools were threatened with similar acts. These threats of homicidal violence occupied both police and psychiatrists, but little is known about the potential threat these cases posed. Our study compared the threats of homicidal violence communicated by pupils aged 12–18 using both police reports (n = 20, 2010) and psychiatric reports (n = 77, 2007–2009). We provide both descriptive information about the cases and statistical comparison based on threat assessment. The pupils were on average 14.9 years old, 13% girls. The threats were communicated most commonly in face-to-face situations in school to other pupils or teachers. Mental health problems were prevalent according to both data-sets. Pupils who were sent for adolescent psychiatric evaluation were a riskier group than the group who were only interrogated by the police. Police reports lacked specific information reflecting the fact that in 2010 Finnish police had not adopted tools for structural risk assessment that were already used by Finnish psychiatry. Our results underline the benefits of structural threat assessment approach, which saves resources and helps experts working with adolescents to gather relevant information and systematically assess it. In addition, it would be important to establish proper collaboration between schools, police and psychiatry.
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Kommt es infolge einer schweren Gewalttat zu einer umfangreichen Berichterstattung, steigt unter bestimmten Umständen die Gefahr von Nachahmungstaten. Hierbei kann von der bloßen Nachahmung des Tathergangs bis hin zu Copycat-Taten, bei denen der Täter sich mit seinem Vorbild identifiziert und diesem nacheifert, differenziert werden. Insbesondere bei Fällen von Schulamokläufen (School Shootings) kann die Übernahme von Codes und Phantasien der devianten Vorbilder eine große Rolle spielen. Diese Inhalte werden zumeist medial tradiert und somit einem breiten Publikum zugänglich gemacht. In der Konsequenz können Richtlinien für eine verantwortungsvolle Berichterstattung formuliert werden.
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This paper considers the problem created by those who harbour unusually intense fixations on public figures. It examines the nature of such pathological fixations and how they differ from the wide range of normal concerns which lead people to communicate with, and even occasionally harass, politicians and other prominent persons. In those harbouring a pathological fixation, there often emerges a pattern of stalking-type behaviour, with repeated attempts at communication and/or contact which create concern. In a small number, the fixation either remains hidden or leads to attempts to communicate about, rather than to, the subject. Occasionally, such a fixation will come to attention with some dramatic approach, or even attack, on the individual with whom the fixated person has been preoccupied. Fixated people are of concern, not just because they create problems for public figures and their security systems, but because many are seriously mentally ill individuals in need of care, who in most cases cause harm only to their own lives and well-being.
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Media commentators have suggested that recent school shootings were precipitated by social rejection, but no empirical research has examined this claim. Case studies were conducted of 15 school shootings between 1995 and 2001 to examine the possible role of social rejection in school violence. Acute or chronic rejection—in the form of ostracism, bullying, and/or romantic rejection—was present in all but two of the incidents. In addition, the shooters tended to be characterized by one or more of three other risk factors—an interest in firearms or bombs, a fascination with death or Satanism, or psychological problems involving depression, impulse control, or sadistic tendencies. Implications for understanding and preventing school violence are discussed. Aggr. Behav. 29:202–214, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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Across four studies, narcissists were more angry and aggressive after experiencing a social rejection than were nonnarcissists. In Study 1, narcissism was positively correlated with feelings of anger and negatively correlated with more internalized negative emotions in a self-reported, past episode of social rejection. Study 2 replicated this effect for a concurrent lab manipulation of social rejection. In Study 3, narcissists aggressed more against someone who rejected them (i.e., direct aggression). In Study 4, narcissists were also more aggressive toward an innocent third party after experiencing social rejection (i.e., displaced aggression). Narcissists were not more aggressive after social acceptance. Self-esteem plays little role in predicting aggression in response to rejection. These results suggest that the combination of narcissism and social rejection is a powerful predictor of aggressive behavior.
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A descriptive study was conducted of normal undergraduate students' impulsive homicidal thoughts and the weapons used in these fantasies. Participants completed a questionnaire asking them to describe a recent incident in which they thought about killing someone. A significant proportion of participants reported having homicidal fantasies. Most fantasies were elicited by frustrating or threatening interpersonal events and involved material-cultural weapons (e.g., firearms, knives, clubs) as opposed to organismic weapons (e.g,, hands, feet). Material-cultural weapons were rated as easier to use and more lethal than organismic weapons, and participants reported higher self-efficacy beliefs for using material-cultural weapons. Most participants reported that they had been exposed to mass media models using their weapons of choice and that they had access to these weapons. The findings are interpreted as evidence for evolved psychological machinery that can associate material-cultural implements with aggressive behavior and rehearse this association through fantasy. (C) 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Article
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We developed a smartphone technology to sample people’s ongoing thoughts, feelings, and actions and found (i) that people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is and (ii) found that doing so typically makes them unhappy.
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Most studies of violent behavior among psychiatric patients focus on inpatients or patients recently discharged from psychiatric units. To explore violent behavior among patients living in the community, the authors examined the prevalence of homicidal behaviors in a general psychiatric outpatient population. During an intake evaluation, 517 outpatients completed several self-report instruments that included a detailed survey of past and current homicidal behaviors covering homicidal ideation, plans, and attempts. Demographic and clinical characteristics of patients with and without a history of homicidal behaviors were compared. Twenty-two patients (4 percent) reported a past homicide attempt. Patients who reported homicide attempts could be distinguished from patients with no homicidal behaviors by the presence of other aggressive behavior such as suicidal ideation and suicide attempts by themselves and their family members and by elevated current measures of interpersonal sensitivity, hostility, and paranoid ideation. The rate of homicide attempts in the general outpatient population studied was considerably lower than the reported rates of assault among inpatients. The relationship between past and current episodes of aggressive behavior reinforces the importance of including a careful assessment of past history of violent behaviors as part of the routine psychiatric evaluation.
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Symptom patterns in women with childbearing-related onset illnesses (CBROI) and nonchildbearing-related onset illnesses (NCBROI) were compared. Women with diagnoses of Affective Disorders and Psychoses (n = 762) were divided into four groups: CBROI with psychosis, CBROI with non-psychotic affective illnesses, NCBROI with psychosis, and NCBROI with non-psychotic affective illness. Principal components analysis of 64 symptoms revealed 9 factors. The most dramatic result was the high score for psychotic women with CBROI on the factor cognitive disorganization/psychosis. Psychotic women with CBROI also reported homicidal ideation more frequently. Symptoms of non-psychotic women with CBROI and NCBROI did not differ.
Article
This study investigates diagnostic, behavioral, offense, and classification characteristics of juvenile murderers. Twenty-five homicidal children and adolescents were assessed using the Diagnostic Interview for Children and Adolescents, clinical interviews, record review, and all available collateral data. DSM-III-R psychopathology was found in 96% of these youths, and one half of them had experienced suicidal ideation at some point in their lives. Nevertheless, only 17% had ever received mental health treatment. Family and school dysfunction were present in virtually all subjects. Histories of abuse, prior violence, arrests, and promiscuous sexual behavior were typical. Motives were equally divided between crime-based and conflict-based causes. A weapon was used in 96% of cases. Significant differences were found between crime classification groups and victim age, physical abuse, IQ, and victim relationship. In addition, those who committed sexual homicide were significantly more likely to have engaged in overkill, used a knife, and been armed beforehand. Ten profile characteristics present in at least 70% of these juveniles were identified. All murders were readily classified according to the FBI Crime Classification Manual (CCM). These findings support juvenile murderers as being an inadequately treated, emotionally and behaviorally disturbed population with profound social problems. The CCM proved to be a useful instrument for the classification of this sample.
Article
Some investigators have noted an increased incidence of suicidal ideation and attempts in individuals with panic attacks. The direct temporal relationship between the panic state and suicidal thoughts and behaviors has not been well elucidated however. Furthermore, although aggressive behavior is often manifested in individuals with suicidal behavior, the relationship between aggression and panic has received little attention. The aim of this study was to assess the frequency and type of reported suicidal and aggressive ideation and behaviors that occur during the panic state in patients with panic disorder. In order to evaluate the contribution of depression, individuals with pure (i.e. uncomplicated) panic disorder were compared with individuals who had comorbid panic and major depression. Nineteen patients with a diagnosis of pure panic disorder and 28 patients with comorbid panic plus major depression were included in the study. All patients were given the Panic, Suicide and Aggression Scale (PSAS), a questionnaire specifically designed to assess reported suicidal and aggressive thoughts and behaviors that occur during panic attacks. Other scales given to all patients included overall measures of impulsivity, suicide risk and violence risk. Patients with pure panic disorder reported high rates of suicidal and aggressive ideation and behavior during panic. The presence of comorbid depression resulted in a doubling of the rate of reported panic-associated suicidal ideation, property destruction and assaults, and a five-fold increase in the rate of homicidal ideation. The rate of reported suicide attempts was equal in the pure panic and comorbid group. There were also high correlations in all panic patients between measures of panic-associated suicide and aggression with the psychometric measures of impulsivity, suicide risk and violence risk.
Article
A nonrandom sample (N = 30) of mass murderers in the United States and Canada during the past 50 years was studied. Data suggest that such individuals are single or divorced males in their fourth decade of life with various Axis I paranoid and/or depressive conditions and Axis II personality traits and disorders, usually Clusters A and B. The mass murder is precipitated by a major loss related to employment or relationship. A warrior mentality suffuses the planning and attack behavior of the subject, and greater deaths and higher casualty rates are significantly more likely if the perpetrator is psychotic at the time of the offense. Alcohol plays a very minor role. A large proportion of subjects will convey their central motivation in a psychological abstract, a phrase or sentence yelled with great emotion at the beginning of the mass murder; but in our study sample, only 20 percent directly threatened their victims before the offense. Death by suicide or at the hands of others is the usual outcome for the mass murderer.
Article
Nine incidents of multiple-victim homicide in American secondary schools are examined and common risk factors are identified. The literature dealing with individual, family, social, societal, and situational risk factors for youth violence and aggression is reviewed along with existing risk assessment methods. Checklists of risk factors for serious youth violence and school violence are used in reviewing each school shooting case. Commonalties among the cases and implications for psychologists practicing in clinical and school settings are discussed.
Article
The authors conducted a descriptive, archival study of adolescent (< or =19 years of age) mass murderers-subjects who intentionally killed three or more victims in one event-to identify demographic, clinical, and forensic characteristics. A nonrandom sample of convenience of adolescent mass murderers was utilized. Thirty-four subjects, acting alone or in pairs, committed 27 mass murders between 1958 and 1999. The sample consisted of males with a median age of 17. A majority were described as "loners" and abused alcohol or drugs; almost half were bullied by others, preoccupied with violent fantasy, and violent by history. Although 23% had a documented psychiatric history, only 6% were judged to have been psychotic at the time of the mass murder. Depressive symptoms and historical antisocial behaviors were predominant. There was a precipitating event in most cases--usually a perceived failure in love or school--and most subjects made threatening statements regarding the mass murder to third parties. The majority of the sample clustered into three types: the family annihilator, the classroom avenger, and the criminal opportunist. The adolescent mass murderer is often predatorily rather than affectively violent and typically does not show any sudden or highly emotional warning signs. Although the act of mass murder is virtually impossible to predict because of its extremely low frequency, certain clinical and forensic findings can alert the clinician to the need for further, intensified primary care, including family, school, community, law enforcement, and mental health intervention.
Article
The authors review extant research on threats, approaches, attacks, and assassinations of public figures in the United States. Despite the limited number of studies, data exist concerning: 1) threatening letters and approaches to celebrities; 2) attacks and assassinations of public figures, usually the President of the United States; 3) threats and approaches to legislative members of state and federal governments; and 4) threats, approaches, and attacks against federal judicial officials. Similarities and differences across the various studies are discussed. Consistent findings across the studies indicate that direct threats toward the target are unusual and are often correlated negatively with an approach or attack; a significant proportion of subjects are mentally ill and have criminal histories; many subjects evidenced a downward spiral in their lives in the months or year before their approach or attack; and if an attack occurred, it was predatory (instrumental, premeditated) rather than affective (emotional, reactive), and the weapon of choice was a firearm, usually a handgun. Operational guidance and further research recommendations are made.
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Über mediale Realitäten der Phantasie
  • G Jones
Das Kind im Menschen: Über Nebenrealitäten und Regression—oder: Warum wir nie erwachsen werden
  • R Lempp
Phantasie: Welterkenntnis und Welterschaffung: Zur philosophischen Theorie der Einbildungskraft
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Prävention von Amok und schwerer Gewalt an Schulen
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  • FJ Robertz
Vorsicht Bildschirm! Elektronische Medien
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  • B Vossekuil
  • M Reddy
  • R Fein