School Shootings And Mass Killings: In The U.S., They May Be 'Contagious'

First Posted: Jul 05, 2015 08:29 PM EDT

Could mass killings and school shootings in the United States actually be contagious?

Researchers at Arizona State University and Northeastern Illinois University found that mass killings and school shootings can create a period of contagion lasting an average of 13 days.

For the study, the researchers examined a database on past high-profile mass killings and school shootings in the United States, basing it to contagion models of data in order to determine if these tragedies inspired similar events in the near future.

Findings revealed that roughly 20 to 30 percent of such tragedies actually arise as a result from contagion. Furthermore, statistics showed that mass killings that involve firearms occur about every two weeks in the United States, with school shootings occurring on a monthly average, as well. Higher firearm ownership in certain states was also indicative of a higher risk. 

"In January of 2014 I was due to have a meeting with a group of researchers at Purdue University," Study author Sherry Towers, research professor in the ASU Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center, said in a news release. "That morning there was a tragic campus shooting and stabbing incident that left one student dead. I realized that there had been three other school shootings in the news in the week prior, and I wondered if it was just a statistical fluke, or if somehow through news media those events were sometimes planting unconscious ideation in vulnerable people for a short time after each event."

Furthermore, previous studies have also linked an increased risk of suicide in youths, where one death may increase the idea in other vulnerable youths to do the same.

"It occurred to us that mass killings and school shootings that attract attention in the national news media can potentially do the same thing, but at a larger scale," Towers concluded. "While we can never determine which particular shootings were inspired by unconscious ideation, this analysis helps us understand aspects of the complex dynamics that can underlie these events."

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the article "Contagion in Mass Killings and School Shootings," found in the journal PLOS ONE.

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