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The following are two statements by US scientists who are experts on violence in response to the Sandy Hook shootings.  I felt the Daily Kos would like to see a scientific perspective on The Sandy Hook Shootings.  The second statement is remarkably predictive of what we have now learned about the Sandy Hook shooter.

Connecticut School Shooting Position Statement Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community ViolenceDecember 19, 2012 (pdf)

The undersigned school violence prevention researchers and practitioners and associated organizations wish to comment on the tragic acts of violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which have shaken the nation, and express our deepest condolences to families and loved ones of the victims and the entire Newtown community. We all share a common priority: Keeping our children safe. We need to come together in our communities to share our grief and talk about how we can move forward in light of this tragic event. This document updates the School Shootings Position Statement that was disseminated nationally following the tragic school-related shootings of 2006.

It is important to emphasize that our concern is not limited to schools. The Connecticut tragedy is referred to as a school shooting, but it is better described as a shooting that took place in a school. It is also relevant to consider the hundreds of multiple casualty shootings that occur in communities throughout the United States every year. Few of them occur in schools, but of course are especially tragic when they occur. Yet children are safer in schools than in almost any other place, including for some, their own homes.

While schools are of paramount concern, the location of a shooting is not its most important feature, although it is the most visible. From the standpoint of prevention, what matters more is the motivation behind a shooting. It is too soon to draw conclusions about this case, but in every mass shooting we must consider two keys to prevention: (1) the presence of severe mental illness and/or (2) an intense interpersonal conflict that the person could not resolve or tolerate.

Inclinations to intensify security in schools should be reconsidered. We cannot and should not turn our schools into fortresses. Effective prevention cannot wait until there is a gunman in a school parking lot. We need resources such as mental health supports and threat assessment teams in every school and community so that people can seek assistance when they recognize that someone is troubled and requires help. For communities, this speaks to a need for increased access to well integrated service structures across mental health, law enforcement, and related agencies. We must encourage people to seek help when they see that someone is embroiled in an intense, persistent conflict or is deeply troubled. If we can recognize and ameliorate these kinds of situations, then we will be more able to prevent violence.

These issues require attention at the school and community levels. We believe that research supports a thoughtful approach to safer schools, guided by four key elements: Balance, Communication, Connectedness, and Support, along with strengthened attention to mental health needs in the community, structured threat assessment approaches, revised policies on youth exposure to violent media, and increased efforts to limit inappropriate access to guns and especially, assault type weapons.

Balance – Communication – Connectedness – Support

A balanced approach implies well-integrated programs that make sense and are effective. Although it may be logical to control public entrances to a school, reliance on metal detectors, security cameras, guards, and entry check points is unlikely to provide protection against all school-related shootings, including the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.  Indeed, shootings have occurred in schools with strict security measures already in place. A balanced approach to preventing violence and protecting students includes a variety of efforts addressing physical safety, educational practices, and programs that support the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students.

Communication is critical. Comprehensive analyses by the U. S. Secret Service, the FBI, and numerous researchers have concluded that the most effective way to prevent many acts of violence targeted at schools is by maintaining close communication and trust with students and others in the community, so that threats will be reported and can be investigated by responsible authorities. Attempts to detect imminently violent individuals based on profiles or checklists of characteristics are ineffective and are most likely to result in false identification of innocent students or other individuals as being dangerous when they actually pose little or no threat. Instead, school authorities should concentrate their efforts on improving communication and training a team of staff members to use principles of threat assessment to take reasonable steps to resolve the problems and conflicts revealed through a threat investigation.

Concerned students, parents, educators, and stakeholders in the community should attend to troubling behaviors that signal something is amiss. For example, if a person utters threats to engage in a violent act or displays a pronounced change of mood and related social behavior, or is engaged in a severe conflict with family members or coworkers, it makes sense to communicate concerns to others who might provide assistance. Early identification is important not only to prevent violence, but to provide troubled individuals the support, treatment, and help they need.

Schools and communities must find effective means to overcome any reluctance to break unwritten rules against “tattling” or “snitching” by communicating to all community members that their lives or the lives of their friends might depend on seeking help for troubled individuals before problems escalate. Channels of efficient, user-friendly communication need to be established and maintained, and can be facilitated when community members, students and staff members feel comfortable bringing concerns regarding safety to the attention of school administrators.

Connectedness refers to what binds us together as families, friends, and communities. All students need to feel that they belong at their school and that others care for them. Similarly, local neighborhoods and communities are better and safer places when neighbors look out for one another, are involved in community activities, and care about the welfare of each other. Research indicates that those students most at risk for delinquency and violence are often those
who are most alienated from the school community. Schools need to reach out to build positive connections to marginalized students, showing concern, and fostering avenues of meaningful involvement.

Support is critical for effective prevention. Many students and family members experience life stresses and difficulties. Depression, anxiety, bullying, incivility, and various forms of conflict need to be taken seriously. Every school should create environments where students and adults feel emotionally safe and have the capacity to support one another. Schools must also have the resources to maintain evidence-based programs designed to address bullying and other forms of student conflict. Research-based violence prevention and related comprehensive support programs should be offered, following a three-tier approach, operating at universal (school-wide), targeted (for students who are at risk), and intensive (for students who are at the highest levels of risk and need) levels.

Mental Health, Integrated Threat Assessment, Media Effects, and Access to Guns

Nationally, the mental health needs of youth and adults are often shortchanged or neglected. That needs to change.  Using much-needed federal and state funding, community-based mental health organizations should work in cooperation with local law enforcement, schools, and other key community stakeholders to create a system of community-based mental health response and threat assessment. These efforts should promote wellness as well as address mental health needs of all community members while simultaneously responding to potential threats to community safety. This initiative should include a large scale public education and awareness campaign, along with newly created channels of communication to help get services to those in need.

Research has established that continued exposure to media violence (e.g., TV, movies, video games) can increase the likelihood of physically and verbally aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, and aggressive emotions. Exposure to
violence in the media can lead to (1) displacement of healthy activities, (2) modeling inappropriate behaviors, (3) disinhibition of socially proscribed behaviors, (4) desensitization to the harmful effects of violence, (5) aggressive arousal, and (6) association with a constellation of risk-taking behaviors. Taken together, this research speaks to a strong need to revise policies on youth exposure to violence in the media.

Finally, it is also important to acknowledge that access to guns plays an important role in many acts of serious violence in the United States. Multiple lines of research have demonstrated a clear connection between local availability of guns and gun-related violent behaviors, with estimates of close to 2 million children and adolescents having access at home to loaded, unlocked guns. Although guns are never the simple cause of a violent act, the availability of lethal weapons
including assault type weapons to youth and adults with emotional disturbance and antisocial behavior poses a serious public health problem. Our political leaders need to find a reasonable and constitutional way to limit the widespread availability of guns to persons who are unwilling or unable to use them in a responsible, lawful manner.

In summary, we ask for a renewed nationwide effort to address the problem of mass shootings that have occurred repeatedly in our schools and communities. Now is the time for our political leaders to take meaningful action to
address the need for improved mental health services and protection from gun violence. At the same time, concerned citizens in every community should engage in comprehensive planning and coordination to prevent violence in our schools and communities. These plans should include access to mental health services for youth and adults who are showing signs of psychological distress, including depression, anxiety, withdrawal, anger, and aggression as well as assistance for the families that support them. The bottom line is that we must all work together toward the common
goal of keeping our schools and communities safe.

The position statement and a complete list of organizations endorsing it is posted at:
http://curry.virginia.edu/...

Co-authors of this document (in alphabetical order)
Ron Avi Astor, Ph.D., University of Southern California
rastor@usc.edu
Dewey G. Cornell, Ph.D., University of Virginia
dcornell@virginia.edu
Dorothy L. Espelage, Ph.D., University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
espelage@illinois.edu
Michael J. Furlong, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara
mfurlong@education.ucsb.edu
Shane R. Jimerson, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara
jimerson@education.ucsb.edu
Matthew J. Mayer, Ph.D., Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
mayerma@rci.rutgers.edu
Amanda B. Nickerson, Ph.D., University at Buffalo, State University of New York
nickersa@buffalo.edu
David Osher, Ph.D., American Institutes for Research
dosher@air.org
George Sugai, Ph.D., University of Connecticut
george.sugai@uconn.edu
Organizations Endorsing This Statement
Afterschool Alliance
Alberti Center for the Prevention of Bullying Abuse and School Violence, University at Buffalo

Alliance for Children and Families
American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
American Association of Pastoral Counselors
American Council for School Social Work
American Dance Therapy Association
American Federation of Teachers
American Group Psychotherapy Association
American Music Therapy Association
American Orthopsychiatric Association
American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
American School Counselor Association
Association for Ambulatory Behavioral Healthcare
Association of Counseling Center Training Agencies
Association of School Business Officials International
Beach Center on Disability, University of Kansas
Born This Way Foundation
Bullying Research Network
California Association of School Social Workers (CASSW)
California Pupil Services Coalition
Center for Behavior Education and Research. Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut
Center for Child and Family Well-being at the University of Nebraska Lincoln
Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine
Child Welfare League of America
College of Education, University of Illinois
Connecticut Commission for Children
Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders (CCBD)
Council for Exceptional Children
Council for Exceptional Children Division for Research (CEC-DR)
Council of Administrators of Special Education
Council on Social Work Education
Division of Clinical Neuropsychology (Division 40), American Psychological Association
Division of Health Psychology (Division 38), American Psychological Association
Everyone Reading
Families International Incorporated
Family Violence and Sexual Assault Institute, San Diego, CA
FedED--thefeded.org
FEI Behavioral Health, Inc.
Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, University of California Santa Barbara
Graduate School of Education, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
Higher Education Consortium for Special Education
Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior, University of Oregon
Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma, San Diego, CA
International Psychology (Division 52), American Psychological Association
International School Psychology Association
Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence
Learning Disabilities Association of America
Mental Health America
Midwest Symposium for Leadership in Behavior Disorders
National Association for Children’s Behavioral Health
National Alliance of Black School Educators
National Alliance to Advance Adolescent Health
National Association for the Education of Young Children
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders, Inc.
National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors
National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)
National Association of School Nurses
National Association of School Psychologists
National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)
National Association of Social Workers
National Association of Social Workers-California Chapter
National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE)
National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE)
National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC)
National Center for Learning Disabilities
National Education Association
National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health
National Head Start Association
National Organization of Forensic Social Work
National Partnership to End Interpersonal Violence Across the Lifespan (NPEIV)
National School Climate Center
Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut
Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families, and Schools at the University of Nebraska
New York Association of School Psychologists
New York State Center for School Safety
Prevent Child Abuse America
Psychoanalysis (Division 39), American Psychological Association
Psychotherapy (Division 29), American Psychological Association
School Psychology (Division 16), American Psychological Association
School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA)
Sheppard Pratt Health Systems, Baltimore Maryland
Social Work Section, American Public Health Association
Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (Division 14), American Psychological Association
Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues (Division 45), American Psychological Association
Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity (Division 51), American Psychological Association
Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (Division 9), American Psychological Association
Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (Division 36), American Psychological Association
Society for the Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues (Division 44), American Psychological Association
Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence (Division 48), American Psychological Association
Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (Division 53), American Psychological Association
Society of Consulting Psychology (Division 13), American Psychological Association
Society of Counseling Psychology (Division 17), American Psychological Association
Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy (Division 49), American Psychological Association
Society of Pediatric Psychology (Division 54), American Psychological Association
Stop Abuse Campaign
Student Affiliates in School Psychology (Division 16), American Psychological Association
Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children
TESOL International Association
The Boys Initiative
The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
United Neighborhood Centers of America
University of Connecticut A.J. Pappanikou Center for Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service
University of Southern California Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California School of Social Work
Voices for America’s Children
Witness Justice
Individuals Endorsing This Statement
Bob Algozzine, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Craig Anderson, Ph.D., Iowa State University
Julie Antilla, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara
Anthony Antosh, Ph.D., Rhode Island College
Steven Aragon, Ph.D., Texas State University-San Marcos
Ron Astor, Ph.D., University of Southern California
Carolyn Bates, Ph.D., Austin, TX
Sheri Bauman, Ph.D., University of Arizona
George Bear, Ph.D., University of Delaware
Tom Bellamy, Ph.D., University of Washington
Rami Benbenishty, Ph.D., Bar Ilan University, Israel
Richard Bonnie, Ph.D., University of Virginia
Danah Boyd, Ph.D., NYU & Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Renee Bradley, Ph.D., Parent and Special Educator, Virginia
Catherine Bradshaw, Ph.D., Deputy Director, Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence
Stephen Brock, Ph.D., California State University, Sacramento
Mary Beth Bruder, Ph.D., University of Connecticut
Brad Bushman, Ph.D., Ohio State University
Catina Caban-Owen, North Windham School, Connecticut
Kelly Caci, M.A., New York Association of School Psychologists
J. Manuel Casas, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara
Timothy Cavell, Ph.D., University of Arkansas
Sandra Chafouleas, Ph.D., University of Connecticut
Casey Cobb, Ph.D., University of Connecticut
Jonathan Cohen, Ph.D., National School Climate Center
Adam Collins, M.A., University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Dewey Cornell , Ph.D., University of Virginia
Jay Corzine, Ph.D., University of Central Florida
Wendy Craig, Ph.D., Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Jonathon Crystal, Ph.D., Indiana University
Jack Cummings, Ph.D., Indiana University
Richard De Lisi, Ph.D., Dean, Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University
Thomas DeFranco, Ph.D., Dean Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut
Frank DeLaurier, Ed.D., Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment
Michelle Demaray, Ph.D., Northern Illinois University
David DeMatteo, JD, Ph.D., Drexel University
Stanley Deno, Ph.D., University of Minnesota
Erin Dowdy, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara
Paul Downes, Ph.D., Dublin City University, Ireland
Joyce Downing , Ph.D., University of Central Missouri
Kame’enui Edward, Ph.D., University of Oregon
Maurice Elias, Ph.D., Rutgers' Center for Community-Based Learning, Service, and Public Scholarship
Michael Epstein, Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Dorothy Espelage, Ph.D., University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Graciela Espindola , Sutter County Schools, CA
Michael Faggella-Luby, Ph.D., University of Connecticut
Albert Farrell, Ph.D., Virginia Commonwealth University
Patrick Faverty, Ed.D., University of California, Santa Barbara
Elizabeth Fernandez, Principal, North Windham School, Connecticut
Diana Fishbein, Ph.D., RTI International
Emily Fisher, Ph.D., Loyola Marymount University
Lori Fishman, Psy.D., Harvard Medical School
Marilyn Flynn, Ph.D., Dean, University of Southern California School of Social Work
Anjali Forber-Pratt, Ph.D., University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Laurie Ford, Ph.D., University of British Columbia
Lise Fox, Ph.D., University of South Florida
Karen Frey, Ph.D., University of Washington
Lynn Fuchs, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University
Douglas Fuchs, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University
Michael Furlong, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara
Ken Furlong, B.A., Carson City Sheriff’s Office
Debra Furr-Holden, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence
Robert Gable, Ph.D., Old Dominion University Virginia
Karen Gallagher, Ph.D., Dean, USC Rossier School of Education
James Garbarino, Ph.D., Loyola University Chicago
Michael Gerber, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara
Cynthia Germanotta, M.A., President, Born This Way Foundation
Donna Gilbertson, Ph.D., Utah State University
Peter Goldblum, Ph.D., Palo Alto University
Steven Goodman, Ph.D., Director, Michigan Integrated Behavior and Learning Support Initiative
Deborah Gorman-Smith, Ph.D., University of Chicago
Denise Gottfredson, Ph.D., University of Maryland
Kathy Gould, Illinois Autism Training and Technical Assistance Project
Sandra Graham, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles
Mark Greenberg, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University
Frank Gresham, Ph.D., Louisiana State University
Eleanor Guetzloe, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, University of South Florida
Lisa Hagermoser Sanetti, Ph.D., University of Connecticut
Laura Hanish, Ph.D., Arizona State University
Gregory Hanley, Ph.D., Western New England University
Isadora Hare, MSW, LCSW, Health Resources and Services Administration
Patricia Hawley, Ph.D., University of Kansas
Richard Hazler, Ph.D., Penn State University
Thomas Hehir, Ph.D., Harvard University
Kirk Heilbrun, Ph.D., Drexel University
Susan Herbst, Ph.D., President, University of Connecticut
Melissa Holt, Ph.D., Boston University
Arthur Horne, Ph.D., Dean Emeritus, Univ. of Georgia
Robert Horner, Ph.D., University of Oregon
Susan Hupp, Ph.D., University of Minnesota
Shelley Hymel, Ph.D., University of British Columbia
Shelley Hymel, Ph.D., Bullying Research Network
Decoteau Irby, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Kathy Jens, Ph.D., Cherry Creek Schools, CO
Shane Jimerson, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara
Asha Jitendra, Ph.D., University of Minnesota
Beverly Johns, MacMurray College
LeAnne Johnson, Ph.D., University of Minnesota
Kristine Jolivette, Ph.D., Georgia State University
Sherri Jones, Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln
James Kauffman, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, University of Virginia
Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights
Maryam Kia-Keating, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara
Jennifer Kitson, Ed.S., NCSP, Education Development Center
Becky Ladd, Ph.D., Arizona State University
Kathleen Lane, Ph.D., University of Kansas
Jim Larson, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin - Whitewater
Kelly Lassman, Ph.D., Pace University
Philip Leaf, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence
Seung-yeon Lee, Ph.D., Ewha Womans University, Seoul, Korea
Peter Leone, Ph.D., University of Maryland
Timothy Lewis, Ph.D., University of Missouri
Robert Lichtenstein, Ph.D., Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology
Benjamin Lignugaris, Ph.D., Utah State University
Susan Limber, Ph.D., Clemson University
John Lochman, Ph.D., University of Alabama
Allison Lombardi, Ph.D., University of Connecticut
Anna Long, Ph.D., University of Connecticut
Sabina Low, Ph.D., Arizona State University
Dan Maggin, Ph.D., University of Illinois, Chicago
Christine Malecki, Ph.D., Northern Illinois University
Roxana Marachi, Ph.D., San Jose State University
Matthew Mayer, Ph.D., Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
G. Roy Mayer, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, California State University Los Angeles
Daniel McCarthy, MSW LCSW, School Social Work Association of America
Jennifer McComas, Ph.D., University of Minnesota
Scott McConnell, Ph.D., University of Minnesota
Phyllis McDonald, Ed.D., Johns Hopkins University
Kent McIntosh, Ph.D., University of Brish columbia
Kristen McMaster, Ph.D., University of Minnesota
Janet Medina, Psy.D., McDaniel College
Danielle Mele-Taylor, Psy.D., University at Albany
Sterett Mercer, Ph.D., University of British Columbia
William Mitchell, Ed.D., Licensed Psychologist
Daniel Murrie, Ph.D., University of Virginia
Howard Muscott, Ph.D., SERESC/NH CEBIS
Rick Neel, Ph.D., University of Washington
C. Michael Nelson, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of Kentucky
J. Ron Nelson, Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Jodi Newman, Ph.D., University of Washington
Amanda Nickerson, Ph.D., University at Buffalo, State University of New York
Pedro Noguera, Ph.D., New York University
Karen Nylund-Gibson, Ph.D., University of California Santa Barbara
Wendy Oakes, Ph.D., Arizona State University
Lindsey O'Brennan, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health
Breda O'Keeffee, Ph.D., University of Connecticut
Robert O'Neill, Ph.D., University of Utah
Pamela Orpinas, Ph.D., University of Georgia
David Osher, Ph.D., American Institutes for Research
Trina Osher, Ph.D., Huff Osher Consulting, Inc.
Ernestina Papacosta, Ph.D., Ministry of Education and Culture E.P.S Cyprus
William Parham, Ph.D., ABPP, Loyola Marymount University, School of Education, Counseling Program
Debra Pepler, Ph.D., York University & Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto Canada.
Reece Peterson, Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Faustino Peterson, Psy.D., New York Association of School Psychologists
William Pfohl, Ph.D., Past President, International School Psychology Association
Robert Pianta, Ph.D., University of Virginia
Nicole Powell, Ph.D. MPH, University of Alabama Center for the Prevention of Youth Behavior Problems
Ron Prinz, Ph.D., University of South Carolina
Robert Putnam, Ph.D., May Institute
Jodi Quas, Ph.D., University of California, Irvine
Matt Quirk, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara
Linda Reddy, Ph.D., Rutgers University
Tyler Renshaw, Ph.D., Louisiana State University
N. Dickson Reppucci, Ph.D., University of Virginia
Cecil Reynolds, Ph.D., Texas A&M University
Ken Rigby, Ph.D., School of Education, University of South Australia
Phil Rodkin, Ph.D., University of Illinois
Philip Rogers, Executive Director, National Assoc of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC)
Phillip Rogers, Ph.D., National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC)
Chad Rose, Ph.D., Sam Houston State University
Susan Rose, Ph.D., University of Minnesota
Matthew Ruderman, M.Ed., University of California, Santa Barbara
Frank Sacco, Ph.D., President, Community Services Institute, Springfield & Boston, MA
Wayne Sailor, Ph.D., University of Kansas
David Sciarra, JD, Ph.D., Education Law Center
Terrance Scott, Ph.D., University of Louisville
Jill Sharkey, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara
Susan Sheridan, Ph.D., University of Nebraska
Brandi Simonsen, Ph.D., University of Connecticut
Bryan Sipe, B.S., Chief of Police, College of Coastal Georgia
Russell Skiba, Ph.D., Director, Equity Project at Indiana University
Phillip Slee, Ph.D., Flinders University, South Australia
Stephen Smith, Ph.D., University of Florida
Douglas Smith, Ph.D., Southern Oregon University
Andrea Spencer, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Education, Pace University
Sharon Stephan, Ph.D., University of Maryland School of Medicine
Skye Stifel, M.A. M.Ed., University of California, Santa Barbara
Sarah Stoddard, Ph.D., University of Michigan
Philip Strain, Ph.D., University of Colorado, Denver
George Sugai, Ph.D., University of Connecticut
Michael Sulkowski, Ph.D., University of Arizona
Jean Ann Summers, Ph.D., University of Kansas
Susan Swearer, Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Frank Symons, Ph.D., University of Minnesota
Elizabeth Talbott, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Chicago
Jim Teagarden, Ed.D., Kansas State University
Deborah Tempkin, Ph.D., Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights
H. Rutherford Turnbull, Ph.D., University of Kansas
Ann Turnbull, Ph.D., University of Kansas
Jennifer Twyford, Ph.D., California Lutheran University
Brendesha Tynes, Ph.D., USC Rossier School of Education
Marion Underwood, Ph.D., University of Texas at Dallas
Tracy Vaillancourt, Ph.D., University of Ottawa
Hill Walker, Ph.D., Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior
Cixin Wang, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Matthew Wappett, Ph.D., University of Idaho
Daniel Webster, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence
Michael Wehmeyer, Ph.D., University of Kansas
Mark Weist, Ph.D., University of South Carolina
Richard West, Ph.D., Utah State University
Andrew Wiley, Ph.D., Kent State University
Anne Williford, Ph.D., University of Kansas
Mark Wolery, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University
Marleen Wong, Ph.D., Associate Dean, University of Southern California School of Social Work
Linda Woolf, Ph.D., Webster University
Roger Worthington, Ph.D., Difficult Dialogues National Resource Center
Michelle Ybarra, MPH Ph.D., Center for Innovative Public Health Research (CiPHR)
Jina Yoon, Ph.D., Wayne State University
Marc Zimmerman, Ph.D., University of Michigan

We are not able to add more individuals to this list.

Organizations wishing to join the list can contact Matthew Mayer at mayerma@rci.rutgers.edu

Rowell Huesmann and Eric Dubow
Aggression Research Program
Research Center for Group Dynamics
Institute for Social Research
The University of Michigan

The School Shootings in Connecticut
December 17

Once again the nation is horrified by an act of senseless mass violence. Since the Columbine disaster, we have had the Virginia Tech campus murders, the attack on Congresswoman Giffords, the Aurora movie theater massacre, the Oregon mall rampage, and numerous others. As psychologists and researchers of aggressive and violent behavior, we are horrified like everyone else, but we also feel a sense of responsibility to try to shed some light on how this could happen. Unfortunately, our science still has a long way to go to understand the psychology of violence completely, and in this case the information on the shooter is very sparse. Still we can make some comments about which we are confident.

Violent behavior is always a product of predisposing characteristics of the individual killer interacting with the killer’s learning experiences and with what has happened to the killer very recently (the situation). To most people, the perpetrators of these recent shootings, including the Connecticut school shootings, look somewhat unbalanced or weird. The few who have survived also seem to act psychologically disturbed. Some have histories of psychological treatment. We hear rumors that the shooter is a loner, or unpopular and teased or bullied by peers, or in the Connecticut case suffering from Asperger’s Disorder. However, the world is full of “weird” looking and “weird” acting people who never act violently. Most people who are mentally ill or treated by a psychologist or psychiatrist never act violently, and the rate of violence among people with psychiatric disorders is only slightly higher than the rate among the general population (and this is the case only for certain disorders and not others). Most murders are committed by people with a previous history of violence who are filled with such blinding rage that they lose self-control and act in a manic rage. However, a subset of lethal violent acts is committed by people who experience almost no emotion and don’t get angry. Such callous and unemotional people just don’t feel anything including any empathy. In the extreme we call such people psychopaths. However, again, many people experience intense rage and don’t kill, and many people are not empathic and feel little emotions but also never kill. Still, it is clear that for various reasons, many individuals with these kinds of psychological abnormalities do not receive any psychological treatment, and over time without treatment, as situational pressures on the person mount, the risk of violent outbursts increases. The fact is that psychology and psychiatry are not very accurate at predicting ‘dangerousness,’ especially in a specific individual. If we wait to provide treatment until the danger is clear, it may be too late. If we intervene at the slightest hint of danger, we may be trampling on individuals’ rights.

Nevertheless, there are a few things about the string of mass killings that are notable and suggest some possible actions. First, all these massacres involve guns. Why? In principle a perpetrator could go from classroom to classroom stabbing every child with a knife. In fact, someone just tried this in China, but they did not succeed in killing any child. Obviously, guns have some practical advantages for the killer. Guns, and particularly semi-automatic or automatic guns, make killing quicker and more efficient. As psychologists, however, we think it is equally important that guns provide distance between the perpetrator and the victim. Just as it is easier to act aggressively when you are hidden inside a car, it is easier to commit a violent act on innocent individuals from a distance. It is easier to avoid experiencing any empathy and to be psychologically remote from a victim when one is physically remote.

Does a perpetrator think it through in this way? Undoubtedly not. As with many behaviors, they more likely simply ‘feel’ like doing it this way. So what primes the idea of using guns? One thing we do know is the Connecticut shooter grew-up in a family culture of gun use. Of course, many youth grow up as hunters and never use guns for bad purposes. It is unclear if the Connecticut shooter ever went hunting or simply shot at targets for fun. Relatedly, in most recent shootings, including the Connecticut murders, the perpetrator seems to have dressed in some kind of costume or uniform. Why?

One way to think about these things that makes some scientific sense is that the perpetrator was following a script for doing these kinds of things. The script is not the motivating force behind the behavior, but we know that social scripts for behavior can take over and gain a life of their own. How do you commit a horrible act of violence against society? The models in the mass media are numerous. Put on an appropriate uniform (be it a trench coat, a costume from a movie, or a military uniform) that is associated with shooting. This allows the perpetrator to identify more closely with other remembered shooters and enhances the perpetrator’s ‘deindividuation’ which in turn lowers his sense of personal responsibility. Then gather up a bunch of guns of the kinds people use when they do these things; go to a place where there are a lot of people gathered; kill as many as possible; then kill yourself. For many people carrying out such a script would be impossible because of the personal beliefs it would violate and the negative emotions that even thinking about it would produce. But for some people who don’t experience negative emotions or who see such behaviors as somewhat normative, or for whom performing such an act might be perceived as achieving a sense of accomplishment and leaving their mark on the world, it is not impossible.

How do the damaged people who become mass shooters acquire such scripts and beliefs? That is pretty clear to every developmental psychologist. Youth first acquire most social scripts by imitating what they see others doing. Imitation is the great teacher of social behavior. Punishments and reinforcements change youths’ use of various scripts, but imitation is the powerful force that first gives the ideas of most social scripts to youth. They imitate what they have seen time and again among their peers, in their family, on the news or in the mass media. We don’t know if the Connecticut shooter was fond of violent movies and TV or played violent video games. But no youth in America can grow up today without repeated exposures to fictional video stories and real news video stories similar to what happened in Connecticut.

For most youth the behavioral scripts suggested by these awful events are rejected. However, the reason why so many of these shootings follow a common script is because they are not rejected but rather adapted by some individuals who are psychologically damaged. Unfortunately, this means that we are going to see this script carried out again before too long. Efforts to reduce the likelihood of these events must address the availability of guns and stepping up long-term and coordinated school-based and community-based mental health services. But equally importantly we must strive to find ways, without trampling on the right of free artistic expression, to reduce youth exposure to violence in life and in the mass media. Violence is a contagious disease, particularly for youth. The more they are exposed to it, the more likely they are to catch it. Unfortunately, unlike most other diseases, susceptible youth don’t need to be close to violence in order to catch it. They only need to see and hear about it over and over again.

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