Tag Archives: shooting

“Why didn’t anyone stop this? It seems so obvious!”

By, Adam K. Fetterman
After an act of extreme violence, it is normal for people to want answers. The shooting of Arizona officials a couple weeks ago is no exception. Briefly, a disturbed man opened fire on public officials killing six and leaving U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona in critical condition. Many accusations were thrown about to explain the man’s extreme behavior. For example, mental health was pointed out in an article on TheHill.com. While there is all this blame thrown around, many question why no one had noticed his erratic behavior and stopped it. According to The Hill article, polls have been conducted and many blame the mental health system for failing to identify dangerous individuals. It also notes that many people have the same feelings regarding other shootings. It seems so obvious to those around these shooters that these people are unstable. Unfortunately, they only notice after the fact.

Part of the reason that people only notice mentally unstable shooters after fact is because of a psychological effect called “Hindsight Bias” (Fischhoff, 1975). Hindsight bias occurs when one misjudges the predictability of an event after the event occurs. According to Campbell and Tesser (1983), one motive for this bias is that people have a need for predictability. Particularly in the case of these shooters, we have a strong motivation to believe that these events are predictable, and not random. Therefore, it is easy to blame an institution or individuals for not recognizing the instability beforehand and “do something” to prevent these atrocities, because we have all the evidence after the fact. With the benefit of hindsight, we believe the events are quite a bit more predictive than they really are, because it makes us feel safe. However, in reality, these events are fairly random. With this in mind, perhaps we should hold back on finding out who is to blame for not stopping these things from happening.

Poll: Mental health linked to Arizona shooting. By Jason Millman from TheHill.com

Campbell, J. D. and Tesser, A. (1983), Motivational interpretations of hindsight bias: An individual difference analysis. Journal of Personality, 51: 605–620.

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.

Did intergroup threat act as a precursor to the Arizona shooting rampage?

Jared Loughner's Pima County booking photo

By Kevin R. Betts

Twenty-two year old Jared Loughner stood in a Phoenix courtroom yesterday faced with federal murder and attempted murder charges. Although much is still being learned about why he targeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in a shooting rampage on Saturday, his actions appear politically motivated. At a past political event, he asked Giffords questions along the lines of “What do you think of these people who are working for the government and they can’t describe what they do?” and “What is government if words have no meaning?” Loughner’s political leanings are unclear, but friends say he expressed dissatisfaction with Giffords and her views. Could perceptions of threat posed by the views of Giffords and her constituents have contributed to Loughner’s violent rampage?

The essence of intergroup threat theory is an expectation that future intergroup relations will be harmful in some way to the ingroup (Stephan, Renfro, & Davis, 2008). These threats may be realistic in that they threaten political power, economic power, or well-being, or they may be symbolic in that they threaten values, beliefs, or a worldview.  It is possible that Loughner perceived the views of Giffords and her constituents as threatening in one or more of these ways. He expressed dissatisfaction to his friends and others regarding her views and ability to lead. More importantly, affected individuals react to threats both psychologically and behaviorally. Psychological reactions may include fear, anger, resentment, or helplessness. Behavioral reactions may be avoidant or aggressive in nature. Although avoidant reactions are most common, aggressive reactions become more likely with negative previous interactions and a strong ingroup identity. Loughner’s friends describe contentious interactions between him and Giffords at past political events, but his association with opposing groups is unclear. Nonetheless, his actions were clearly aggressive.

It is probably too soon to draw firm conclusions about whether intergroup threat acted as a precursor to the Arizona shooting rampage. More information about Loughner’s political leanings,  formal or informal associations with any political groups, history of prior contact with Giffords and her constituents, and perceptions of threat posed by the views of  Giffords and her constituents are all needed. Yet, intergroup threat is worth considering as a possible precursor to the incident as the case unfolds.

Read more:

Shooting suspect’s nihilism rose with isolation (AP)

Stephan, W.G., Renfro, C.L., & Davis, M.D. (2008). The role of threat in intergroup relations. In U. Wagner, L.R. Tropp, G. Finchilescu, & C. Tredoux (Eds.), Improving intergroup relations (pp. 55-72). Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

Guns, race and evolution.

The recent shooting of American soldiers by a Muslim American military psychiatrist at Fort Hood made many Muslim Americans fear that this single attack in Texas will undermine the progress that has been made in relations between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans. They are worried that the outgroup homogeneity would lead people to make the false assumption that a Muslim man committing a crime is representative of other Muslims. Their worries may have a good reason.

Humans are a tribal species. The social psychological literature on intergroup relations is rich and diverse. For example, studies demonstrated that people make spontaneous ingroup-outgroup categorization and favor ingroup over outgroup members in a wide variety of situations. Furthermore, people have a specific stance with respect to outgroups and intergroup situations. When intergroup relations are salient, people readily show prejudice against members of outgroups and find it easy to morally justify  intergroup aggression and violence. The traditional explanation of these phenomena focuses on people’s ingroup psychology. That is, being a highly social and cooperative species, humans likely possess tendencies to exalt the ingroup. As a byproduct of favoring ingroups, people will show indifference toward, or worse, a dislike for outgroups. Recently, Mark Van Vugt and Justin H. Park offered another explanation that treated negativity toward outgroups as psychological tendencies –warfare and disease avoidance. More specifically, people are more likely to infrahumanize (e.g. denying outgroup member’s typical human qualities such as politeness and civility) members of outgroups, particularly when these outgroups constitute a coalitional treat. Moreover, for people within any given culture, certain outgroups may appear especially foreign with respect to disease-relevant domains, such as food preparation and hygiene practices. Because each culture has developed (via cultural evolution) its own set of practices for preventing infection, cultures with different practices – especially in the domains of food preparation and hygiene – may be perceived as posing disease threats. Thus, the perception of outgroups, particularly those that are subjectively foreign, may activate disease avoidance responses.

The evolutionary framework also makes various suggestions for interactions to improve intergroup relations, such as altering the perceptual cues that elicit threat responses toward particular outgroups,  or changing the specific cognitive and affective responses toward outgroups.

In the wake of Fort Hood: Prejudice is not the answer.

 

Mark Van Vugt & Justin H. Park. (2009). Guns, Germs, and Sex: How Evolution Shaped Our Intergroup Psychology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3,927-938.