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Author(s) Adler, Lothar
Marx, Dagmar
Apel, Heino
Wolfersdorf, Manfred
Hajak, Göran
Year 2006
Title Zur Stabilität des "Amokläufer”-Syndroms: Kontentanalytische Vergleichsuntersuchung von Pressemitteilungen über deutsche Amokläufer der Dekaden 1980-1989 und 1991-2000
Published in Fortschritte der Neurologie-Psychiatrie, Vol. 74, No. 10
Pages 582–590
DOI 10.1055/s-2005-919092
Abstract Background: Running amok is considered a rare but dangerous act of violence which has been investigated predominantly on a case by case basis. German-wide data on amok cases covering the decades 1980-1989 and 1991-2000 were used to perform the first epidemiological study world-wide on the stability of socio-demographic, criminological and psychiatric variables of amok behaviour.

Methods: A content analysis study on nationwide press reports of amok cases included a total of 104 subjects who were identified by combined homicidal-suicidal acts of violence and fulfilled structured criteria originally defined according to former Malayan amok events.

Results: Amok cases in both decades were comparable except for the significant increase of weapon use, especially of firearms. Total prevalence showed a tendency to decline from 1:5.5 million to 1:8.5 million men per year, females were involved in rare single cases only. The male offenders showed a bimodal age distribution with a mean of 35 years. They were professionally well qualified, but had a 5 - 7fold higher risk of unemployment than the normal population. Motives and reasons for running amok were serious but not unusual, they varied widely and addressed all areas of daily life. Most offenders were characterized by abnormal personality patterns such as passive, aggressive, impulsive and paranoid and were in possession of firearms and previously convicted. Psychiatric diseases such as psychosis, paranoia, depression or personality disorders were present in more than 50% of cases; further 20% were intoxicated. The presence of psychiatric disorders influenced patterns of violent behaviour in individual subjects. Victims were predominantly unknown to the offenders. Close to one third of the amok runners committed suicide or were killed by legal authorities.

Conclusion: Amok represents a temporarily stable syndrome of extreme violent behaviour even in modern industrialized societies. Subjects exhibit a complex combination of serious causative motives, social burden and psychiatric diseases which do not explain common causes of amok rather than the origin of amok behaviour in individual cases. Amok joins the wide spectrum of human homicidal-suicidal acts which show similarities in many aspects.

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