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Journal Article


Smith S. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 1965; 13(4): 310-319.


(Copyright © 1965, American Medical Association)






VioLit summary:

The aim of this article by Smith was to apply a clinical psychological syndrome, referred to as "episodic dyscontrol," to adolescent murderers in an exploration of possible treatment and rehabilitation techniques.

The author conducted a qualitative non-experimental review of eight cases. All subjects were males, ages 14 to 21 years, who were convicted of murder. Case reviews consisted of psychological evaluations done by the author, a review of the case history, and, where possible, a psychiatric evaluation and interviews with family members were also conducted.

The author concluded that all eight subjects showed signs of "early oral deprivation" and "orally incorporative fantasies." In particular, claims the author, the subjects felt rejection and a lack of support from their mothers. Because of an absence of emotional stimulation, as well as damaged family relationships and family homes, the subjects all lacked solid ego support. According to the author, the inability of the subjects to develop a distinction between the ego and external objects, led to the formation of the superego being either weakened or totally absent. This, according to the author, made the subjects susceptible to a loss of control and capable of violent aggressive outbursts.
In all eight cases, the author reports that the murder victim was either the assailant's parent or a "parent symbol," and that their destruction was related to the patients own fears of being destroyed. Subjects' problem behaviors were then a result of a severe lack of identification with a parent (particularly a masculine parent figure). According to the author, these characteristics of a weakened ego, violent outbursts, and lack of emotional stability and identification with parent, all point to a distinct clinical syndrome called "episodic dyscontrol," where patients are unable to control violent outbursts and oten have episodes of amnesia following a violent incident.

In this article, the author advocates a more close examination of the link between crime and mental illness and more clinical investigations into the treatment of episodic dyscontrol. For the eight cases here, the author does point out a need for incarceration and a structured treatment environment, primarily due to the uncontrollable nature of the patients' outbursts. Further, the author recommends psychotherapy treatment of offenders that addresses the weakened link between the ego and objects. However, because this deficit may be rooted in infant development, treatment may be difficult. Treatment of young offenders, according to the author, also presents a problem due to the turmoil of adolescence in general.

As pointed out by the author, the findings of this study should be labeled "tentative" due to the small sample size. Additionally, the date of the article, 1965, should be taken into account. Since 1965, much research, both psychological and sociological, has been conducted on adolescent murderers. Newer research represents a more comprehensive knowledge base on the multidimensional nature of young homicide offenders.

(CSPV Abstract - Copyright © 1992-2007 by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, Institute of Behavioral Science, Regents of the University of Colorado)

KW - Juvenile Violence
KW - Juvenile Homicide
KW - Homicide Offender
KW - Juvenile Offender
KW - Psychological Factors
KW - Case Studies
KW - 1960s
KW - Juvenile Male
KW - Male Offender
KW - Male Violence
KW - Adult Male
KW - Adult Offender
KW - Adult Violence
KW - Adult Homicide
KW - Adult Anger
KW - Male Anger
KW - Juvenile Anger
KW - Anger Effects
KW - Homicide Causes
KW - Violence Causes


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