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Author(s) Adler, Lothar
Lehmann, Karin
Räder, Klaus
Schünemann, Karl-Friedrich
Year 1993
Title "Amokläufer" - kontentanalytische Untersuchung an 196 Pressemitteilungen aus industrialisierten Ländern
Published in Fortschritte der Neurologie-Psychiatrie, Vol. 61, No. 12
Pages 424–433
DOI 10.1055/s-2007-999114
Abstract We performed a content analysis study based on 196 reports in the German press published during the last decade on acts of violence designated as "going berserk" or "running amok (amuck)" and meeting defined criteria. With less than one person per one million men per year running berserk or amok, this is a very rare act of violence, albeit a very dangerous one involving 1.3 deaths and 1.7 injuries per case. Offenders differ from the normal population in regards to the small percentage of women (5 %) and high unemployment (40 %), and from other violent offenders in that they are normally occupationally well-qualified.

Severe psychiatric disorders are over represented. A total of 108 cases were classified according to specific syndromes either by specialists or experts on the spot, or on the basis of a description of the signs and symptoms. Of the syndrome-related acts, the most dangerous offences were committed by 10 delusionally ill and 2 psychopathic individuals. 30 less dangerous offenders suffered from paranoid-hallucinatory syndromes. 28 crimes committed in a state of intoxication and 11 "crimes of passion" were the least dangerous. Another 25 persons with an extensive incidence of suicide in the family, without any apparent pre-existing psychiatric disorder, may have gone berserk in the course of a depressive syndrome. Although psychotically ill individuals tend to overreact more often following a minimal slight, under delusions or with no apparent reason at all, on the whole the causes for both the psychotic and other offenders are of a serious nature. Object loss and private disputes on the one hand and social conflicts on the other were of approximately equal significance.

The relationship between the offender and his victim is more essential for the course of the occurrence than motives or the type of the psychopathological syndrome. If only family members are attacked, the offenders have usually been inconspicuous, elderly individuals, two thirds of whom can not be allocated to a given syndrome and may be depressive. They kill deliberately and on-target, do not merely injure their victims - hardly ever, in fact - and then commit suicide practically without exception. If strangers are the target of violence, the crimes are generally committed by younger, passive-aggressive, psychopathic, paranoid or intoxicated offenders. They kill only about half of their victims, but injure many, also causing a great deal of damage. They rarely commit suicide. Between these two extremes we have highly dangerous and diagnostically widely different offenders, half of whom cannot be allocated to a definite syndrome and who attack friends or strangers besides their own family and subsequently commit suicide in apparently one third of the cases.

These results complement previous concepts usually derived from single-case studies of persons going berserk or similar phenomena in industrialised nations, and place them in a new perspective.

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