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Running Amok: Spree Killers Viewed through the Lens of Evolutionary Theory

Robert King and Nadia Butler


Published: 2019/12/01


Mass killings perpetrated by loners, and not motivated by clear political influences, are a low risk, but high impact feature of modern life. Males have been literally running amok — attacking innocent strangers en masse — across time and space. The word “amok” refers to a behavior once thought to be a culture-bound syndrome, but similar offence characteristics, which make sense from a Life History Theory (LHT) perspective, are also present in other cases of mass killings in Western cultures. Status is a female-selected reproductive desideratum in males, especially under harsh conditions. Thus, male responses to failure to acquire status, or threats of losing it, are predicted to sometimes take pathological forms. An archival search of mass murderers was conducted to identify offender and offence characteristics. Latent class analysis revealed a mass murderer typology and a bimodal age distribution consistent with critical periods of either status acquisition or status loss in males. These results highlighted the benefit of re-evaluating a previously examined area of multiple homicide from an alternative perspective and the contribution evolutionary psychology can make to understanding the motivation of mass murderers.

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