It is the end of February 2018 and we, as a nation, have already endured 18 mass shootings. This is clearly an epidemic but what drives these people to do these acts of terror? Is it their home life? Is it their brain? It is all of the above. Oddly enough, the perpetrators of mass shootings have a very similar brain make up to serial killers. Is this a coincidence? To answer that question, no, it isn’t a coincidence.

Due to the countless attacks within the past couple of years, there has been extensive research done on the brain chemistry of a mass shooter. The Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, didn’t seem to have any behavioral issues and only took medication for anxiety. He showed no signs of schizophrenia and he didn’t seem to have any political affiliations, and (like any human) had a line of broken relationships, but didn’t have any record of abuse or violence. Overall, he seemed like a normal man, nothing seemed off, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But that was not the case, clearly, there was something wrong but no one could pinpoint exactly what was wrong. Some thought that he maybe had a stroke and something just became off, but the University of Princeton was determined to find exactly what was so different about Paddock.

University of Princeton’s neuroscience center did an autopsy of Paddock’s brain and found some interesting things. The autopsy did not reveal any obvious defects, such as tumors or bleeding, it didn’t show a lot due to the bullet that was shot into his head on the day that he killed and injured many. Although they weren’t able to find a lot of differences in his brain, they were able to open this new concept of mental health and mass shootings.

There are a lot of sides to what drives a person to do something like this. One important side is the social aspect of these killers. Like many serial killers, mass shooters have gone through things that have changed them and altered their brain chemistry. Dr. Knoll, a forensic psychiatrist, studied these behaviors. Knoll found that most mass shooters are male who act alone after meticulously planning the event of mass hysteria. In most cases, they have a long fascination with weapons which leads to violent things. After many studies on many different mass shooters, Knoll came to the conclusion that these people spend a great deal of time feeling resentful about real or imaginary rejections and ruminating humiliating incidents. They usually have a paranoid worldview and has chronic feelings of racial persecution, envy, and grudge-holding. These feelings build up into a feeling of loneliness and the need for revenge and power. Being like this sounds pretty bad right? Well, it was found that these feelings are definitely some sort of mental disorder but it is hard to draw the line between mad and bad. There are some that have had schizophrenia or psychotic delusions but there are others that clearly don’t fit into the criteria. There are many offenders that are stuck in the so-called ‘gray zone’. This ‘gray zone’ is where it is hard to determine the relative contributions of moral failure and mental affliction. So, there seem to be some similarities to the brains and personalities of serial killers but it is clear that there isn’t enough research to know exactly what is going on in the brain of a mass shooter. Are they the same? Clearly, they aren’t.   

CC BY-SA 4.0 The Brain Chemistry of a Mass Shooter by Maggie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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1 Comment
  1. Annie 8 months ago

    Maggie,
    I love this subject for your paper. I’m wondering if your focusing solely on the psychology of the issue? Sorry, I’ve only read one of your posts on the subject so I haven’t quite gotten the full gist. Have you looked at the different opinions about labeling a mass shooter “mentally ill” or not? Those are sometimes really interesting because people can honestly really support it either way. Some people don’t care whether a shooter was mentally ill or not, if he killed seventeen people, he killed seventeen people and he clearly has no room for remorse. However, some people believe that if mass shooters are found to be mentally ill, they are more worthy than others to be treated than incarcerated. I think that would be another little interesting tangent. Great paper!

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