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Mass Shootings May Be Contagious

Mass Shootings May Be Contagious

Emerging research suggests mass killings and school shootings in the U.S. appear to be contagious.

In the study, a team of scientists from Arizona State University (ASU) and Northeastern Illinois University examined databases on past high-profile mass killings and school shootings in the U.S.

Investigators then created a contagion model to match the data to determine if these tragedies inspired similar events in the near future.

Study author Dr. Sherry Towers, research professor from ASU Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center, explained, “The hallmark of contagion is observing patterns of many events that are bunched in time, rather than occurring randomly in time.”

The research team determined that mass killings — events with four or more deaths — and school shootings create a period of contagion that lasts an average of 13 days. Roughly 20 to 30 percent of such tragedies appear to arise from contagion.

Their paper appears in the journal PLOS ONE.

The analysis was inspired by actual events in Towers’ life.

“In January of 2014 I was due to have a meeting with a group of researchers at Purdue University,” she said. “That morning there was a tragic campus shooting and stabbing incident that left one student dead.

“I realized that there had been three other school shootings in the news in the week prior, and I wondered if it was just a statistical fluke, or if somehow through news media those events were sometimes planting unconscious ideation in vulnerable people for a short time after each event.”

The researchers noted that previous studies have shown that suicide in youths can be contagious, where one suicide in a school appears to spark the idea in other vulnerable youths to do the same.

“It occurred to us that mass killings and school shootings that attract attention in the national news media can potentially do the same thing, but at a larger scale,” Towers said. “While we can never determine which particular shootings were inspired by unconscious ideation, this analysis helps us understand aspects of the complex dynamics that can underlie these events.”

On average, mass killings involving firearms occur approximately every two weeks in the U.S., and school shootings occur on average monthly. The team found that the incidence of these tragedies is significantly higher in states with a high prevalence of firearm ownership.

Source: Arizona State University/EurekAlert

Mass Shootings May Be Contagious

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Mass Shootings May Be Contagious. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 17, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2015/07/06/mass-shootings-are-contagious/86508.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.