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Op/ed: Don’t Pin Shooters’ Motives on Mental Illness

Horrifying Trend Rooted in Perverted ‘Quest for Significance,’ Psychology Researcher Says

By Arie W. Kruglanski

Mourner kneels in front of flowers to pay respects after Buffalo shootings

A mourner pays her respects at a makeshift memorial across the street a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., that was the site of mass shooting, allegedly by a white supremacist, of 10 people in historically Black neighborhood.

Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

In the wake of the mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., that left 10 people dead—as well as similar acts at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, a Walmart in El Paso and a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, people want to know “why?”—and whether anything can be done to stem the dreadful tide of violence, writes Distinguished University Professor of Psychology Arie Kruglanski in a new essay in The Conversation.

Although one easy answer is often put forth, says Kruglanski, who studies radicalization and extremism, it is insufficient to explain many of these tragedies.

The idea that committing atrocities and killing innocent victims reflects mental illness has been long discarded by terrorism researchers like me. The over 40,000 foreign fighters who joined the Islamic State organization to kill and die weren’t all mentally disturbed, nor were the mass shooters who in the first 19 weeks of 2022 managed to carry out nearly 200 attacks on U.S. soil.

There is a mental and psychological dimension to the problem, to be sure, but it is not illness or pathology. It is the universal human quest for significance and respect—the mother, I believe, of all social motives.

Read the rest in The Conversation.

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