Cynical shy’ may explain school killers
AN extreme form of shyness that mainly affects males can lead to violence and mass murder, psychologists claim. The personality defect, dubbed ‘‘ cynical shyness’’, could be to blame for high-profile school shooting incidents in the US.
These include the killing of 14 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in 1999, and the Virginia Tech massacre in April this year in which 33 died.
Bernado Carducci and Kristin Nethery, from Indiana University, studied cases involving eight individuals who had committed shootings at their high schools between 1995 and 2004.
The psychologists looked for indicators of ‘‘ cynical shyness’’ — lack of empathy, low tolerance for frustration, outbursts of anger, rejection by peers, bad family relations and access to weapons.
In a paper presented to the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco, they wrote: ‘‘ Our results indicate that the individuals involved in the seven deadly high school shootings within the last decade clearly had characteristics of cynical shyness.
‘‘ Most of what we see in individuals with this extreme form of shyness is that they tend to be male and desperately want to be socially engaged with other people.
‘‘ But often lacking in social skills, these individuals get rejected by their peers and then avoid social connections because of the resulting pain.’’
Repeated over time, this sense of rejection could ultimately turn hurt into boiling anger, said the scientists.
To come to terms with their feelings, those affected often created a ‘‘ cult of one’’. ‘‘ They end up alone and start hating the people who reject them,’’ said the psychologists.
‘‘ This allows the cynically shy person to distance himself from the hurt but also makes it easier for him to retaliate with violence, as in these school shootings.’’
At Columbine, students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot dead 12 students and a teacher, and wounded 24 others, before committing suicide.
Afterwards, people spoke of the pair’s isolation from the rest of their classmates, their feelings of insecurity and depression, and their strong desire for attention.
It was reported that the boys
were excluded from the cliques that existed at their school and were picked on by the popular ‘‘ jocks’’.
The Virginia Tech massacre at the campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, was the worst shooting incident in modern American history. On the morning of April 16, South Korean Cho Seung-Hui, 23, armed himself with two handguns and killed 32 students, lining many of them up against a wall before shooting them. He then killed himself. Two of the victims were former pupils at Westfield High School, which Cho attended. The misfit, who was isolated, shy and inarticulate, was said to have been targeted and bullied by his pupils at the school.
In home-made video clips recovered after the killings he was seen comparing himself to Jesus Christ and ranting about ‘‘ rich kids’’.
Carducci said it was important for teachers, parents and mental health professionals to look out for students whose shyness was marked by anger.
‘‘ Most young people who are shy do not experience their shyness as a source of anger and hostility,’’ he said.
‘‘ But for those shy students who are seemingly isolated and angry, we need to provide ways for them to learn how to engage with others and create a sense of community for themselves. This is especially true during times of transition, like going to college.’’ PA
Cho Seung-Hui: Killed 32, and himself