Posted by & filed under Child Development, Development of the Self, General Psychology, Human Development, Intergroup Relations, Intervention: Children Adolescents, Persuasion, Social Cognition, Social Psychology, Social Psychology, Stereotype Prejudice Discrimination, The Self.

Description: Mass shootings are terrifying both in their consequences and in the challenges they pose when trying to figure out why they happened, if they could have been prevented  and what steps may be taken to reduce the likelihood of anything like them happening again. I am not talking here about acts of terrorism planned and carried out by foreign insurgents for the express purpose of creating terror and advancing a particular cause. Rather I am focusing upon incidents that typically involve young males who grew up in North America and who, usually working alone, planned and carried out horrific acts of mass violence. Unfortunately we do not have to look to the United States for examples of these horrible events. Canadian examples include, Marc Lepine and the shootings at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989 and only a week ago the shootings in a mosque in Quebec City in relation to which another young man is in custody. Why are these acts perpetrated at all? Why are they usually perpetrated by young males? If we are not to view them as random totally unpredictable acts by deranged individuals how are we to view them? And what can or should we do to prevent them? Reflect upon your thoughts on these questions and then read the article linked below (and watch the embedded video).

Source: The Evolutionary Psychology of Mass Shootings, Frank T. McAndrew, The Conversation, CNN.

Date: July 8, 2016/January 29, 2017

Photo Credit:  CNN

Links:  Article Link —

In Psychology we struggle when trying to understand the actions of young men such as those noted in my introduction above. We need to understand not just individual (psychological) thoughts and decisions but also the more sociologically rendered forces that may be at work in moving young men to consider radical or extreme actions. We, in psychology, struggle because considering social forces and movements such as immigration, globalization, nationalism, and extreme political movements of any stripe feels like taking steps away from individual decision making and responsibility. I have always felt wary of evolutionary psychological or sociobiological theories that point to the social implications of humans’ evolutionary past as contributors to explanations of problematic behaviors such as infidelity, out-group prejudice and even hatred as they seem to me to be post hoc stories which do not leave room for individual choice and/or intervention. Before dismissing them out of hand, however, it is important to reflect upon the fact that individual development occurs within potentially powerfully influential social and cultural contexts. The very concept of individual identity development was crafted within what was defined as a psycho-social process of multiple influences. Peer groups are important, sociopolitical contexts are important, sociohistorical shifts and changes are important and all are funneled through individual identity seeking and forming processes to produce the young adults of each generation. We cannot simply ignore extreme actions as nonsensical or crazy. We must try and understand them as our best opportunities for intervention and prevention are going to start and largely stay within social domains. Certainly we may be able to become aware of troubled or troubling individual youth in time to help them and divert them from extreme actions but we will make those contacts through social channels and we will understand how and where to look and how to reach out to and engage with troubled and troubling youth by considering the social forces that are shaping or bending their individual identity developments. So will an evolutionary psychological perspective help with this? Well that remains to be seem but at least, I think it is somewhere in the ballpark of useful ways to approach this problem. The concepts associated with “precarious manhood”, the Young Male Syndrome, and Social Attention Holding Theory are all worth having a look at if only because they are suggesting ways we might effectively construct an understanding of the relationships between social forces, individual identity development and extreme behavior and understanding is a large first step toward prevention.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Identify and briefly describe one or two of the theories put forward in the linked article to account for aggressive or violent or hateful acts among young males.
  2. What do you think of the sorts of explanations the above theories offer for extreme behaviour in young males? Are they useful?
  3. Pick one of the theories noted in the linked article and briefly outline what sort of intervention/prevention steps it would suggest or imply for dealing with extreme behaviour?

References (Read Further):

CBC’s The Current Podcast: Jan 31: Quebec mosque attack symptom of ‘populist hatred spreading,’ says law prof
Can we connect political words to murderous deeds? We are in a world of political disruption, anger, change, protest and defiance, but how do we process all of this? Law professor Payam Akhavan tells us what we’re not seeing.

Bosson, J. K., & Vandello, J. A. (2011). Precarious manhood and its links to action and aggression. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(2), 82-86.

Chagnon, N. (2012). The Yanomamo. Nelson Education.

McAndrew, F. T. (2009). The interacting roles of testosterone and challenges to status in human male aggression. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 14(5), 330-335.

Wilson, M., & Daly, M. (1985). Competitiveness, risk taking, and violence: The young male syndrome. Ethology and Sociobiology, 6(1), 59-73.

Archer, J. (1991). The influence of testosterone on human aggression. British Journal of Psychology, 82(1), 1-28.

Klinesmith, J., Kasser, T., & McAndrew, F. T. (2006). Guns, testosterone, and aggression an experimental test of a mediational hypothesis. Psychological science, 17(7), 568-571.

Gilbert, P. (2000). The relationship of shame, social anxiety and depression: The role of the evaluation of social rank. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 7(3), 174-189.