The Role of Anger, Mental Health, and Other Factors in 21 st Century Mass Shootings




Callen, Anna Maria

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Too often, mainstream media portrays mass shootings as random and senseless acts of violence perpetrated by individuals with mental illness. This study aims to examine the role of mental illness, anger, and other contributing factors in these incidents. An abundance of evidence exists for the relationship between anger and violence; however, anger receives inadequate consideration as an elicitor of mass shootings. Adopting the cognitive-motivational approach to emotion, information from the Stanford MSA database was analyzed for the presence of anger, the elicitors of anger, and the expression of anger in cases of U.S. mass shootings that occurred between 2000--2015. Inferences made by two independent judges were analyzed by a kappa coefficient. Frequency data, including known history of mental illness and other socio-demographic variables, were analyzed by chi-square goodness-of-fit while a chi-square test of independence was used to test for an association between anger and history of mental illness. Contrary to popular belief, we found mass shooting perpetrators with mental illness to represent less than one-third of the sample; by contrast, a clear presence of anger was identified in 60% of the cases. Additionally, a significant relationship linking mental illness and anger was not found. Findings enhance the understanding of mass shootings as a phenomenon and call attention to previously overlooked factors such as anger. Evidently, extreme forms of violence may be attributed to anger dysregulation which may be targeted for risk assessment and intervention by mental health professionals.


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Anger, mass murder, Mass shootings, mental health, violence