People fall in love, adore rock stars, or loose themselves in work. Under these conditions, we devote much time and effort to one person or cause. Such a preoccupation is common and typically innocent. However, it can become problematic when preoccupations intensify over time and when objectives are pursued to an irrational degree. Intense preoccupations are called fixations (Mullen et al., 2009). Being fixated on a person or cause is often associated with an increased risk for violent behaviour such as stalking, harassment, or attacks. Research has found that many perpetrators of attacks on schools and public figures had spent many hours prior to the attack, being actively engaged with the object of their concern (Meloy, Hoffmann, Roshdi, & Guldimann, 2014; NTAC, 2015; James et al., 2008). Fixation is therefore classified as one of eight warning behaviours preceding violence (Meloy, Hoffmann, Guldimann, & James, 2012). Although fixation is acknowledged as a risk factor, it is not well understood why fixation may escalate in violence. Could it be that merely devoting time to a problem intensifies our opinion on the problem? Could it be that just thinking about a problem increases our urge to solve the problem, thereby allowing harsher measures? The current research project taps into these questions.
You will conduct an experiment in which fixation is manipulated between groups. Fixation may be operationalized as the amount of time devoted to a problem. One way of manipulating this is to have one group of participants, a week long, perform a number of small tasks that relate to a specific problem (e.g., air pollution), whereas the other group performs filler tasks (i.e., tasks that are unrelated to the problem). After a week of daily tasks, you could measure (for instance) how this manipulation affected i) how urgent they consider the problem to be and ii) what measures they would allow to solve the problem (e.g., punishment towards those who cause the problem).
Note that this text serves as an illustration of how the study could be designed. The details are yet to be settled. This will be done in collaboration with the supervisor.
Meloy, J. R., Hoffmann, J., Guldimann, A., & James, D. V. (2012). The role of warning behaviors in threat assessment: an exploration and suggested typology. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 30, 256-279.
Meloy, J. R., Hoffmann, J., Roshdi, K., & Guldimann, A. (2014). Some warning behaviors discriminate between school shooters and other students of concern. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 1, 203.
Mullen, P. E., James, D. V., Meloy, J. R., Pathé, M. T., Farnham, F. R., Preston, L., Darnley, B., & Berman, J. (2009). The fixated and the pursuit of public figures. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 20, 33-47.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, United States Secret Service, National Threat Assessment Centre (2015). Attacks on Federal Government 2001-2013: Threat Assessment Considerations. Retrieved October 1, 2017, from https://www.hsdl.org/?abstract&did=788758
Please contact Sven Zebel (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested in this assignment.