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According to a recent study, mass killings could be contagious. When these happenings are covered on national news, they might inspire the wrong people.
The research project was conducted by a team of researchers from the Arizona State University led by research professor and statistician Sherry Towers. The idea for the study originated when she was present at Purdue University for a meeting, and a shooting took place right there. Upon recalling that there were three mass shootings covered by the media in the week prior to that, Sherry Towers started to think if it was all a coincidence.
“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,” said Sherry Towers.
And so, she sought the help of specialists in mathematical modeling and began to do look into this curious matter. They based their study on specialized databases that cover shootings and mass murders. They took into account a great many criteria to analyze and sort them, including the time they happened, the place and their level of coverage on the national news.
Upon regarding these events as part of a mass contagion, the data appeared to indicate that there is quite a strong link between the mass killings featured by national news and future killings that take place soon after.
Sherry Towers explained that seeing these happenings on the news acts like a trigger, “a vector” for those who are predisposed for this behavior. The news coverage of the mass killings does not contribute as a cause that led to the behavior of these violence predisposed people, since this implies long term events and more complex causes. It does however seem to enable these people to make the decision to act.
The Arizona State study concluded that there is a 13-day period during which the mass crimes presented on the news are contagious. This is the risk period when the wrong people could regard it as an inspiration for their own horrific acts.
Furthermore, upon analysis of the frequency of these mass crimes covered by the databases in their project, the study revealed that school shootings, which are particularly dangerous and contagious, happen once every 31.6 days. Also, general mass shootings happen once every 12.5 days.
Therefore, the chance for a trigger is quite high. It is important to mention that the mass crime that actually succeeds to enable a person to commit one himself will most likely include more details that this person could relate to or that are capable of making and impression on him.
Sherry Towers also pointed out that the findings of the study do not imply that mass killings should not be covered by the media, as this has a significant importance of its own. She explained that people need to be aware of these happenings and that they need to understand the importance of people coming out with significant information in relation to the crimes, in the event that they have them.
The Arizona State University study was published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE in Thursday’s edition.
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