The Role of Shame in Developmental Trajectories Towards Severe Targeted School Violence: An In-Depth Multiple Case Study

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Most research on severe targeted school violence (STSV) - defined as planned offenses committed by former or current students intending to kill one or more persons associated with their school - is related to risk factor approaches or theoretically informed models and thus lacks an empirical explanation of underlying mechanisms and the dynamic of contextual variables that caused or accompanied perpetrators' negative development towards violence. To contribute to a comprehensive and dynamic account of the social and psychological processes leading to STSV, a multiple in-depth case study analysis was conducted. Nineteen cases of STSV (perpetrated between 1999 and 2013 in Germany) were identified in a structured media search. Using data about offenses and perpetrators from police investigation files, qualitative analysis revealed that developmental trajectories need to be understood in terms of emotions in addition to rational cognitive processes, and that one key emotion is shame. Three relevant psychological turning points (episodes that alter offenders' life courses and impact later choices, behaviors and/or values) relating to experiences of and coping with shame (namely two shame crises and one trigger event) were found in all life histories under investigation. The perpetrators' coping differed between cases, which resulted in two types of trajectories: Eight perpetrators showed internalized shame coping strategies (e.g. social withdrawal), and eleven perpetrators responded with externalized coping strategies to feelings of shame (e.g. aggressive behavior). Relevant underlying mechanisms, time-related categories, and person-environment factors that have impacts on specific coping mechanisms and the resultant developmental pathways towards STSV are discussed.

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Aggression and Violent Behavior





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