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    The Psychology Behind The Huntsville Shootings
    By Jennifer Wong | June 9th 2010 02:08 PM | 2 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    My column covers the latest primary research discoveries in the life-science discipline. Much of what is reported here are considered discoveries...

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    In the tragic Huntsville shootings reported in Nature News Feature (Life after Death. http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100512/full/465150a.html. Nature 465, 150-155; 2010), Amy Bishop, an Assistant Professor in the University of Alabama’s biology department, methodically shot her colleagues during a departmental meeting, killing three and seriously injury three others.

    Long after the shots rang out during that fateful departmental meeting, the ordeal still continues to haunt the victim’s families as well as students and trainees in the now shattered department. While colleagues pitch in to bring the department back to life, one could not help but ask why this horrible crime was committed. Why would an assistant professor do the unthinkable?

    According to psychological studies by Ann Marie Lenhardt in Casius College in Buffalo, the majority of shootings in workplaces and on campuses are often the result of society’s relentless pressure to succeed in order to gain acceptance and respect. Failure on the other hand could lead to a sense of rejection. In 71% of the cases, rejection in the form of isolation, disconnect with society, persecution, and bullying are primary triggers for despair and rage. As the rage accumulates to a boiling point, the killer would lash out in shooting rampages.

    In the Huntsville tragedy, Amy Bishop fits the same psychological mould to be a workplace killer. Bishop had a history of low productivity and poor mentorship skills in her lab, which resulted in two failed tenure applications. Moreover, the prosecution reveals the shocking fact that Bishop had already a history of violence. These two facts suggest that Bishop may already be a ticking time bomb that was inadvertently triggered when her tenure application was rejected. The result was a shooting tragedy.

    How could this tragedy be avoided? In an academic research career where scientists are competing fiercely for grants and tenure, and where rejection is common, it is not surprising that individuals with psychological predisposition towards violence could eventually lash out by killing others. While justice can be done after the fact, it may not be sufficient to deter similar shootings. Rather, I think that hiring committees should take safety precautions by carefully doing background checks of their tenure track position candidates.

    Lastly, the scientific community should come together in an effort to prevent these shootings through an educational means. Students and trainees who are building their careers should be trained not only to do competent research, but to also face failure with greater resilience.

    Comments

    Gerhard Adam

    Lastly, the scientific community should come together in an effort to prevent these shootings through an educational means. Students and trainees who are building their careers should be trained not only to do competent research, but to also face failure with greater resilience.
    I'm not sure I understand what this means.  I know you're not suggesting that these shootings occurred because of some fundamental lack of knowledge or understanding.  However that last sentence sounds conspicuously close to simply saying "get over it"!

    These types of events are built into our society and are a direct result of how we've structured our civilization (for good or bad).  In some cases, an individual may end up committing suicide, in others they may perform that violence on those around them.  There is no solution.  It is a product of an individual's psychological makeup and the choices they make.  It cannot be reasoned or educated away.

    If we are prepared to let people fail, then we must also be prepared to deal with the repercussions of that failure, especially if it involves human institutions.  It is a vastly different proposition to be a hunter-gatherer that can't find an animal to eat, than to be an unemployed worker that can't afford to buy food.  It is precisely those types of differences that create the environment of "lashing out" at those around us.  In a primitive past, someone may have "lashed out" against the gods for causing bad luck.  Today those "gods" are us, so when someone lashes out, it is an outcome that we can't be so naive as to be shocked by it.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Significant more school shooting deaths in states allowing school corporal punishment: http://bit.ly/cguTzg