Dr Alexander Fingelkurts
The Big Question:
“Shooting Rampages – is it really a mental health issue? And what can we do?”
“Shooting violence” as a neurophysiological type.
Aggressiveness is an individual stable property of the personality determined mostly by factors of hereditary and ontogenesis, and to a least degree by environment, while aggression is the realization of this property in behavior, i.e., it is a behavioral phenomenon. Due to a natural confusion between such categories clinicians are notoriously poor at accurately predicting violence and traditional psychiatric interviews have unsatisfactory inter-rater concordance. The issue is complicated further by the fact that controlled-proactive-instrumental-predatory aggression may be found in individuals without noticeable emotional or social deficits (i.e. the “friendly neighbour” or the “polite and quiet young man” could become a murder).
Scientific research published in neurophysiological and neurological literature accumulates enough data to conclude that dysfunction in the particular neural networks and mechanisms is characteristic for violent behavior including murder. Indeed studies provided evidence that pathological impulsivity, high sensation-seeking, impaired behavioural control, poor understanding of others’ emotional state, and a lack of planning ability, have a “hard” biological basis. In this context shooting violence can be considered as a neurophysiological type. As such, “shooting violence” type of personality can be identified objectivity with the help of neurophysiological methods, for example electroencephalography (EEG). Of course additional studies are needed to create a screening tool able to identify neurophysiological signatures characteristic of violent youngsters before their commission of homicidal acts and the ability to differentiate them from ordinary delinquents. Important advantage of neurophysiological approach is the fact that it is almost impossible to falsify neurophysiological signals intentionally.
The reason why scientific findings in this field did not result in practical technology is in the social fear that there is a chance that neurophysiological predictors may over-predict and therefore to stigmatize needlessly. However, probable over-prediction is definitely a smaller price in comparison with numerous deaths as a result of homicidal acts occurring each year in numerous countries. Moreover, specially designed studies can minimise probable over-prediction.
The next steps can be (a) to create a special programme for identified violent youngsters to teach them how to control pathological impulsivity and high sensation-seeking, how to understand others’ emotional state, and how to improve their planning ability, and (b) to limit access to weapons for identified violent youngsters.