In Brief

Nearly half the adolescents sampled in a recent study said they had fantasized about committing homicide.

In the study, Peter Crabb, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University's Abington campus, examined through a survey questionnaire the thoughts of approximately 300 undergraduate students, most of whom were ages 18 to 19. Of those studied, 60 percent of males said they had had a recent fantasy of killing other people; 32 percent of females also reported having such fantasies.

Lovers' quarrels and other trivial disputes spurred homicidal fantasies for more than 40 percent of the students. The disputes mostly involved friends, bosses, co-workers, acquaintances, businesses and teachers.

Most students named firearms and their bare hands as their weapons of choice in their fantasies. By exploring impulsive aggressive fantasies in normal young people, the study sought to better understand the violent acts that occur in schools and elsewhere, such as the shooting at Columbine High School last year. Lead researcher Crabb hopes that improved understanding of motivations for violence will help prevent such tragedies.

"If evolution shaped human nature to be an aggressive sort of nature, we should own up to this legacy...because most of the homicidal fantasies reported in this study involved weapons, and because those weapons were rated as being lethal and easy to use, and were available to most fantasizers, the logical target for policy can only be the tools [weapons] that make killing a behavioral option--even for 6-year-old children."

The study will appear in an upcoming issue of Aggressive Behavior (Vol. 26, No. 3).