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Arson: Behavioral and Economic Aspects

Offender Types, Arson For Profit, Arson And Collective Violence, Statistical And Economic Issues, Bibliography

The earliest scientific writings on arson were generated during the late eighteenth century by a group of German psychiatric theorists, who concluded that the crime was characteristic of physically and mentally retarded females from rural areas who were undergoing the stresses of puberty. These theorists classified arson under the rubric of "instinctive monomania" that, according to prevailing legal codes, defined arsonists as insane and not accountable for their actions. During the decades that followed, the terms "monomanie incendiaire" and "pyromania" appeared in the literature, which described arson as an impulsive act and a distinct mental disorder. From the 1820s through the 1930s, arson was studied in relation to psychiatry, psychology, and law. The prevailing issue concerned the medicolegal understanding of the term "irresistible impulse": was incendiarism generally impulsive behavior resulting from some form of mental aberration, and was a person legally responsible if motivated to commit a crime only by some irresistible impulse?

Later in the twentieth century, those studying arson began to examine other areas and motivations, and it was quickly learned that the phenomenon was not restricted to mentally ill or defective persons but could be found among otherwise "normal" individuals as well, whose actions emerged from a wide range of personal motives.

JAMES A. INCIARDI

JENNIFER L. MEYER

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law