Psychopathy experts discuss the role media plays in mass shootings


On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman fired almost unimpeded for 96 minutes from the University of Texas, Austin tower — changing forever, the feeling of safe public space. (Photo by Tracy Andersen.)

Dr. Richard A. Friedman, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Director of the Psychopharmacology Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, recently published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times addressing the recent spate of mass shootings:

Why Can’t Doctors Identify Killers?

Mary Ellen O’Toole, Editor in Chief of Violence and Gender Journal, psychopathy researcher, and Senior FBI Profiler, Behavioral Analysis Unit (Ret.), posted this response to Friedman in the Violence and Gender Journal:

A Different Perspective on the UCSB Mass Murderer

And Jacqueline B. Helfgott, Ph.D., author of Criminal Behavior: Theories, Typologies, and Criminal Justice, expressed her opinions on Crosscut.com:

Fame, media and mass shootings: Culture plays a role in creating these tragedies, in Crosscut.com.

Helfgott, who teaches college courses, including The Psychopath, Murder Movies & Copycat Crime, and Typologies of Crime & Criminal Behavior, says society can no longer ignore the role of our media-obsessed culture in shaping the attitudes of vulnerable young men toward crime.


Comment on this article

2 Comments on "Psychopathy experts discuss the role media plays in mass shootings"

Notify of

Thanks for posting this. Mary Ellen O’Toole is one of my favorite writers on the subject. I found her article to be very good. This is the first time I’ve seen it so clearly spelled out – we may not be able to precisely predict the next incident of sociopathic or violent behavior, but we can do a lot to prevent it. I never saw that before her article linked to in the posting. It’s very insightful and shows me there is a lot more we can do to prevent violent behavior. We may not get to 100% effectiveness, but we can do a lot better.

Now I’m sure many people will be looking at how to apply this in their own lives, and hopefully they can use this knowledge to make things safer and better.

Thanks again for posting!

The “copycat” phenomenon has been around for literally centuries, if you can believe it. In an article at “Psychology Today” discussing the current series of spree murders we are experienceing, psychologist blogger Nigel Barber PhD mentioned:

“The copycat effect

“…This copycat effect is well known since the spate of suicides following the publication of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1774 novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther”, in which the romantic protagonist kills himself. Since then, the copycat effect emerged in the clustering of many different kinds of destructive acts including suicides, murder-suicides, familicides, and rampage killings (3).”

Another article at PT by Joseph T Hallinan notes that in the weeks and months following the “probable suicide” of Marylin Monroe, there was a noticable and alarming increase in suicides (mostly women) *across America and in England and Wales.*

Our current instantaneous sharing of breaking news events RE mass murders/spree killings or celebrity suicides just speeds it all up.

My main disagreement with the first article is that it seems to me that there *should be* a reliable tool to assess the risk of violence (self-directed violence AND other-directed violence) in individuals who display specific traits, and this tool should be in a “check-list” form and available to the general public.

I think that if a person (a family member in particular, or a spouse/SO, or a relative, an employee/employer, a neighbor, a student, etc.) is displaying most of the high-risk or “red flag” checkmarks on such a violence-risk assessment tool, then there should be a policy or procedure in place to request a next step: a formal medical psychiatric evaluation by a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Maybe what’s needed is psychiatric “first-aid-level” training for the general public? The Red Cross conducts classes to teach ordinary, non-medical people how to provide basic-level medical care to injured parties to treat/stabilize the situation until the paramedics arrive.

Perhaps the Red Cross or another agency can teach a similar “first aid” level of skills in psychology, to better help all of us recognize the “injury” (depression, paranoia, psychosis) do a “first aid” level violence-risk assessment, keep the individual who is deteriorating emotionally stabilized, and contact the equivalent of “psychiatric paramedics” if enough red-flag behaviors are found in the initial (first-aid level) violence risk assessment checklist.

What we have now (RE psychiatric assessment of violence risk, and treatment) is obviously not working, so in my opinion its time to try something else, and keep trying until we find methods, procedures or policies that do work better.

Send this to a friend