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What is in the Arsonist’s head?

25.09.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

The Ministry of Emergency Situations of Russia stated that most of the foci of forest fires in Siberia are located near to roads. This means that one of the probable causes of such fires is intentional arson. Psychologists at our center have discussed the factors that drive the arsonists.

Arson is a criminal offense and no weapons are required to commit it. Most arsonists act deliberately for reasons such as a sense of revenge, for personal gain, out of hooligan motives or in an attempt to conceal another crime. Such motives are often guided by mentally healthy people.

Pathological arsonists are called pyros or pyromaniacs. They are much more dangerous than conscious arsonists since they do not stop at one fire and there will always be relapses. They are attracted by a passionate, irresistible desire to start fires.

According to ICD-10, pyromania refers to disorders of habits and attractions. There are two types of motivation for a pathological pyromaniac:

  • Emotional stress relief. Before the arson is committed, the pyromaniac’s tension increases, and the sight of a flaring fire causes him/her satisfaction or relief. Through arson, the offender expresses anger and aggression, redirecting the spite to houses, cars or trees.
  • The need for excitement. Such an arsonist has a need for specific stimulation.. This is satisfied by the crime, and a covert observation of the general commotion caused by the action. Such arsonists sometimes like to participate in extinguishing the fire themselves.

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An arsonist is a person with a number of inadequate patterns of behavior. They are often teenagers or young people living with their parents. They are socially inadequate and have difficulty communicating with other people. Adult arsonists are usually unmarried, have limited education, live alone, do not work or are engaged in unskilled labor. They are withdrawn, unsociable, and physically unattractive, often having problems with alcohol and/or suffering from depression.

The tendency to arson in adolescence can be a harbinger of awakening schizophrenia. Young arsonists are often observed in instances of animal cruelty, and among them there are many victims of sexual violence.

In 1963, New Zealand forensic psychiatrist John MacDonald formulated the “MacDonald Triad — a set of three behavioral characteristics – zoosadism, pyromania and enuresis. McDonald discovered that many of his sadistic patients regularly tortured animals as children, they set fires and often wet their beds after the age of five. He associated these behavioral manifestations with a predisposition to commit particularly violent crimes.

A mentally healthy, socially adept person who is aware of the devastating consequences of a fire will always think about the consequences of his/her behavior. Such an individual will never set fire to dry grass in windy weather, will not throw a burning cigarette butt from the balcony, and will not use fire to take revenge on a neighbor who took a parking space. You should always remain human and think about the consequences of your actions. With the manifestation of pathological behavioral signs, it is better to consult a specialist and swiftly stop the problem rather than losing control of your behavior.