Pathways to a school shooting rampage: Does fiction reflect scientific evidence?

Pathways to a school shooting rampage: Does fiction reflect scientific evidence?

Pathways to a school shooting rampage: Does fiction reflect scientific evidence?

Symposium44Riitakerttu Kaltiala, Tampere University, Finland

Room 2FWed 14:00 - 15:30

Multiple victim shooting incidents in schools seem to have become more common during the era of the Internet. Subsequent shooters borrow features from previous incidents, widely described in the world wide web, up to the extent that a “cultural script” of a school shooting incident has been acknowledged and is considered one of the critical factors necessary for such incident. Research has identified risk factors for school shootings in both societal level, immediate psychosocial environment level and in the individual. Factors from all these three levels have also found their way to fiction. We shall discuss three portraits of adolescent school shooters in the novels We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver, Nineteen minutes by Jodi Picoult, and Störst av allt by Malin Persson Giolito. In line with scientific research, the novels imply three different developmental pathways to a killing spree. In one, appetitive violence, childhood psychopathic traits, cultural scripts and attachment trauma are the central topics. In another, bullying, peer rejection and lack of prosocial ties are presented as elements in causal role for a tragedy, in the context of cruel social pecking order in a school. In the third, inappropriate parenting and troubled family relationships pave way to deteriorating mental health, drug abuse and antisocial and narcissistic personality pathology. The narratives gain support from research. In light of these characters, we shall discuss early warning signs and entries for preventing the tragic development by supporting normative adolescent development.

Presentation 1:Psychopathic traits and appetitive violence
Psychopathic traits in adolescence predict the occurrence of criminal behavior as well as instrumental violence, and some school shooters have been described as being callous-unemotional and showing a lack of empathy, features of narcissism, as well as feelings of superiority. Some school shootings have been associated with careful planning and ceremonial violence with special clothing and weapons. This way, they differ greatly from most homicides, which are impulsive manslaughters committed by marginalized males and characterized by alcohol intoxication. In this symposium we shall describe a fictive portrait of an adolescent school shooter named Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2003). In this novel, appetitive violence, etiology of child and adolescent psychopathic traits, cultural scripts and attachment trauma are the central topics. In light of this story and research knowledge, we shall discuss early warning signs and entries for preventing the tragic development by supporting normative adolescent development.

Presentation 1:Peer rejection, inappropriate parenting and lack of prosocial ties
Risk factors for school shootings in the immediate psychosocial environment have been suggested, for example, bullying and peer rejection, unlimited access to media violence, inappropriate parenting and troubled family relationships, lack of pro-social support systems, certain characteristics of schools, and availability of weapons. Even if research has actually demonstrated that the associations between subjection to bullying and becoming a school rampage shooter are far from that simple, and that many of the shooters have rather been feared, and rejected perhaps due to others feeling uneasy and afraid of them, Peter, the shooter in Jodi Picoult’s novel Nineteen minutes is portrayed straightforwardly as a victim on long-term and largescale bullying by the groups of “popular” kids whom “ordinary” kids do not dare resist. However, even if Peter’s parents are respectable members of the society and obviously sincerely attempt to provide a loving home, parents also altogether fail to understand the torments Peter goes through as the lonely, rejected and actively bullied kid in a school that allows a cruel pecking order to persist.
Inappropriate parenting is striking in the story of Sebastian in Malin Persson Giolitos Störst av allt. Sebastian is actively rejected by his parents, but also Maria, his girlfriend and finally the sole defendant in court, is, despite the wealthy and socially integrated family background, left totally alone facing and managing the increasing mental disturbance of Sebastian. The young perpetrators present with many personal characteristics associated with school shootings, such as anger, mental disorders, uncommitment to pro-social social systems, marginalization from meaningful social worlds, psychosocial problems, failure of surveillance systems and availability of weapons all apply.
Co-author: Nina Lindberg

Narratives in youth forensic psychiatry
fiction, risk factors, school shootings
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