You Can’t Profile School Shooters

Original article at

A slew of factors determine our behavior, social scientists say, including external factors, our mental states and the state of our brain.

There are, however, a few things that keep resurfacing when scientists review violent and aggressive actions by youth, including depression, anger and resentment, low self-esteem, feelings of victimization and sometimes serious psychiatric disorders.

“These are people who often suffer from mental illness, in this case there was evidence this guy was pretty depressed; they sometimes have difficulty telling what’s real and not real,” said Daniel Nelson, a psychiatrist who counsels children affected by trauma at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

But again, most mentally-disturbed individuals don’t pick up a gun and use it. “You can’t say they have isolated themselves and they are depressed, so they are going to turn into a mass murderer,” Nelson told LiveScience. “The problem is now you’ve labeled literally tens of thousands of people incorrectly, because most people who are depressed, isolated and can’t talk, don’t become mass murderers.”

Experts say Schools need systems to spot troubled kids. (article at Reuters)

Cho Seung-Hui, the 23-year-old Virginia Tech gunman, left some pretty clear warning signs, mental health experts said, but those details were never pieced together until after he killed 32 people and took his own life.


But most students and many faculty members do not know where to turn when they come across disturbing behavior.

"There's no systematic way for pieces of the puzzle to come together. This is a major factor in my view of why school shootings look so foreseeable after the fact," Borum said.

"It's because a lot of people knew pieces of information but nobody communicated with each other. After the fact, you've got it all ... and everybody says, 'How could this have happened?'" he added.

"Everybody just thinks about their own little node." And the problem is not just limited to schools.

This reminds me of the famous bystander effect (I read it in The Tipping Point). I do not have to act because someone else will?

And also The Power of Context (the importance of the situation and context in understanding behavior)

.. But there is a world of difference between being inclined toward violence, and actually committing a violent act. A crime is a relatively rare and aberrant event. For a crime to be committed, something extra, something additional, has to happen to tip a troubled person toward violence, and what the Power of Context is saying is that those Tipping Points may be as simple and trivial as everyday signs of disorder like graffiti and fare-beating.


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