A significant number of mass shooters may be aggrieved narcissists

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A new review article published in American Behavioral Scientist argues that mass shootings are linked to narcissism.

“I have studied aggression and violence my entire career — over 25 years. I published my first article on narcissism and aggression in 1998,” remarked Brad J. Bushman, the author of the article and a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.

“Here is the ‘take home message’ from my webpage: After doing research on aggression and violence for over 30 years I have come to the conclusion that the most harmful belief people can have is the belief that they are superior to others (e.g., their religion, race or ethnicity, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, political party or ideology, school, city, state, country, etc. is best). When people believe they are superior to others, they behave very badly. Every person on this planet is part of the human family; no person is more or less valuable than any other person.”

Bushman’s review article explains that narcissism can result in aggression and violence. Mass shooters in particular may be more likely to have narcissistic traits.

“It is a myth that aggressive and violent people suffer from self-esteem. They are much more likely to have narcissistic tendencies,” he explained.

Mass shootings are often preceded by the perpetrator being subjected to a “humiliating loss of face,” such being fired from work or rejected by a romantic partner.

“Narcissists think they are special people who deserve special treatment. When they don’t get the respect they think they deserve, they lash out at others in an aggressive manner,” Bushman told PsyPost.

One of the perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, for instance, had remarked “I would love to be the ultimate judge and say if a person lives or dies—be godlike.” Similarly, a gunman who killed 6 people at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2014 described himself as a “supreme gentleman,” the “superior one,” and the “true alpha male” in a video before the shooting.

“Although most violent criminal try to hide their crime from others, mass shooters often do the opposite — they want everyone to know about them,” Bushman explained to PsyPost. “Mass shooters crave attention from others, as do narcissists. Of course, hardly any narcissists become mass shooters. But a mass shooter is more likely to have narcissistic tendencies than low self-esteem.”

A paper presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in 2016 noted that the prevalence of mass shootings has risen in relation to the mass media coverage of them. “Unfortunately, we find that a cross-cutting trait among many profiles of mass shooters is desire for fame,” explained Jennifer B. Johnston of Western New Mexico University, the author of that paper.

“One should avoid mentioning the names of mass shooters or showing their photos,” Bushman noted.

The article was titled: “Narcissism, Fame Seeking, and Mass Shootings“.



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