11399Why Johnny Wants to Blow Up His School
- Mar 31, 2001We have administered the Reiss Profile of Fundamental Motives to some junior
high school students threatening violence, including one 13 year-old boy who
developed written plans to bomb his school. What is new about this asessment
is that Reiss Profile measures motives, nearly all believed to have a
significant genetic component.
The 13 year-old who planned on bombing his school scored 2 s.d.'s above the
norm for venegance. Since venagenace was his greatest value, we interpret
this to mean that he was prepared to spend significant time and enegy to get
back at people who bullied or taunted him.
The boy also scored very high for status. Status is psychometrically linked
to attention, because both status and attention convey a sense of importance
of self. The boy was highly motivated to draw attention to himself.
The usual inhibitors of violence were weak. Honor is the motive that links
children to their heritage, including traditional codes of morality. This
boy scored very low on honor. He did not care about right versus wrong; he
had no conscience, so to speak.
Idealism (also called citizenship) is the motive that links children to the
community. This motive is psychometrically independent of honor. This boy
scored low on citizenship. He was disconnected from parents and from
community because he lacked the motives needs to value these connections.
(We assume these motives have a significant genetic basis.)
The boy was a bit of a coward. He scored high for tranquility. More than
his peers, he was motivated to avoid stress and prone to develop fear or
experinece panic. He may have chosen to bomb his school, rather than to
attack with a gun, because a bomb planted hours ahead of time poses less
A second boy, 14 years old, was tested. He showed similar motives -- very
high on veneagnce and status, very low on honor and citizenship/idealism.
This boy, however, scored low for tranquility. He experienced stress as
excitement to be sought after rather than as a sign of danger to be avoided.
He was fearless. He drove his parent's car into a tree.
The motivational profiles may show us how violent prone boys develop
different values and motives than those who are not violent prone. To the
extent to which these motivational traits are genetically determined (they
are universal and have significant survival value), the initial testings are
consistent with the hypothesis that the children showing school violence have
different natures than their nonviolent peers.
Psychometric research can help identify how elemental desires and instinctual
needs (automatically triggerred motives) are related to each other. When
biologists describe animal behavior, for example, they make many errors
because they presume that unrelated behaviors are related. A good example is
the assumption that prayer in humans is related to submissive behavior. This
cannot possibly be valid because the strength of the motive to pray is
uncorrelated with the strength of the motive to submit to secular authority.
By making use of psychometrics, psychologists can contribute significantly to
Professor of Psychology & Psychiatry