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James Holmes: Mental Illness or Social Frustration?

Many have shared their theories about James Holmes and the "Dark Night" Batman massacre. But, could love and sex play a larger role in his behavior than anger and madness? Can lack of love and respect lead a man to kill? Read More

Great observation.

I believe you are closest to the true motivation behind Holmes actions than those who believe otherwise. But I think that deep down Holmes was always a bad guy. His supervisor's comment about being extremely stubborn and refusing to do his work the right way shows a problematic personality to begin with.

"the right way" is subjective..in the eye of the beholder, especially with scientists

Hi Anonymous,
I too read the comment from Holmes' neuroscientist advisor about him not wanting to do things "the right way". "The right way" to a scientist usually means his/her way or no way. Some scientists are very "dogmatic" when teaching their graduate students, while others are more open and teach their students to think "outside the box". The latter type encourages discovery, while the former type tends to be on one side of 2-3 opposing sides of a scientific theory-and because of this it is usually "their way or the highway" and anyone who so much as voices a different opinion from theirs is automatically a "problem". I know because I am a research biologist and have worked side by side with both types of scientists. I've dealt with the agreeable, open "outside the box" thinkers as well as the close-minded, narcissistic dogmatic types who really don't care what your opinion/thoughts are as long as they can take credit for them as being their own (if they turn out to be workable). So I can tell you that sadly, the former type is more common in science than the latter type. Therefore, "the right way" is very subjective and should not be used as a tool to judge someone else's personality as being "problematic". Also, shy or "loner" types are not always deviant and so should not be automatically assumed as being "probelmatic". And by the way, I am right in the middle of intro and extravert and a bit of a loner (I need my space during stressful times as opposed to drawing closer to people like most other women do when stressed) and I am actually a smily, peaceable person who only fights when someone else hits first. I agree with Jeremy's theory here by the way, and I am happy that he addressed it-he's been the only one so far. I especially like and agree with how he says that we shouldn't be so quick to "pathogenize" people; instead consider the life-style/environmental causes for behaviors.

Reproductively disenfranchized males

...are not happy campers. Kudos for an honest, brave post!

don't attend university boys

don't attend university boys

Already Albert Hammond realized it.

Just give me food and water,
put a guitar on my hand
'Cause all I need is music
and a Free Electric Band!

Perhaps you are correct, and

Perhaps you are correct, and of course your idea is only a theory, but it also leads to the assumption that all people who are introverted and with a low sex drive are eventually going to blast people away with an assault rifle and this is simply untrue. Plus it is the same ridiculous drivel and demonization of those who are simply less socially inclined EVERY SINGLE TIME there is a shooting.

Plus you went ahead and decided to completely ignore the fact that in the same week that he failed his oral exam he decided to withdraw from Uni and this is the same time period where his psychiatrist (you failed to bring that into the equation as well, the fact that he decided to seek mental help) warned that he might be dangerous to others. This modern society claims you MUST go to college and you MUST get a higher education and he was on the rise until failing that oral exam and then only being able to find a job at McDonald's. That would drive most people mad to some degree.

Stop the hatred of introverts and those comfortable with less social interaction. You're going to go the way of Freud in the sense that your ideas are getting to be seen as outrageous and, well, psychotic in themselves.

Missed the Point

My point is that he was DENIED and REJECTED from social and sexual opportunities. In other words, Holmes was outgoing and sexual, but denied the venue to express it. This is evidenced by him seeking out such social and sexual experiences. So, what my thesis states is that people who WANT love and sex, but are DENIED it by situational factors, are frustrated and may be violent. Introverts would not fall into that category, because they are in that situation by choice

People who are truly introverted and with low sex drive do not have a NEED for such contact...at least, not to as high of a degree as others. Therefore, they are less likely to be frustrated. In contrast, guys like homes want it, but can't get it. Thus, they are frustrated, angry, and sometimes violent.

Many people are forced to be sexless and socially excluded. So, before you jump to the conclusion that they are living in that situation by choice and "just introverted", you may want to consider the alternative. From the evidence, Holmes at least, wanted way more contact than he was getting. That is not an introvert with low sex drive...

Thank you

This and your other responses, but this particularly, expresses my fears for my Grandson and others like him. For sure, he has been denied and rejected socially all his life. And therin lies my fear.
Thanks.

Me Too

I'm concerned for young men like your grandson as well. That's why I'm highlighting this issue.

The good news is that my critiques are indeed over-simplified as some of the comments suggest. It is true that the majority of young men who are socially and sexually ostracized do not go on to become serial killers. There are other social and biological factors that lead a man to "choose" to alleviate his frustration in that particular way. So, teaching your grandson more socially-beneficial ways of finding acceptance and love, other than aggression, is a good start. As others suggested, if he is good in art or music, he might find peer acceptance and love through one of those outlets.

Beyond that though, my detractors are denying the reality of the problem. Sure, we can get good men to "put up with" the hostile situation and not go on a rampage. Most men do indeed muddle through the status quo without murder (although they are failing out of school and life at alarming rates). But, because a large group of men are not mass murdering - just suffering in silence - we're supposed to ignore the issue? I don't think so.

The bottom line is that society is punishing good men. We can instill "empathy", "integrity", "morality", and "mental health", so that they don't act on their misery and frustration - especially in such horrible ways. But, that is not alleviating men's suffering...just asking them to suffer in silence. The only way to truly SOLVE the problem then is to look at how society is rewarding men. Until we stop punishing "good" men and stop rewarding deviant men, some variation of this behavior will continue.

And again I think there's a

And again I think there's a bigger point here that's not getting hit: The fact is that James Holmes was a smart guy who was also pretty good looking. I say this objectively and apart from his actions - if someone showed me a picture of him without my knowing his actions, I would've thought "oh, good looking young kid." Plenty of men who are dealt the same cards go on to do just fine socially. My guess is that his social isolation and sexual rejection had to do with his PERSONALITY - how he was treating people, that deficit of empathy you hit on in some other comments. Women don't like being treated with a lack of empathy if they are at all emotionally healthy and probably steered clear of him at the first signs of this. The social rejection certainly fed fuel to his fire but my guess is that he was already coming from a disordered place and the rejection he faced was a result of people responding to what was already lurking there. I think you may be over empathizing with his nerdiness - plenty of nerdy men go on to find nice women and lead productive lives. He didn't. It's true that he may have wanted more contact than he was getting - it also seems probable that the reason for that lay within him. I'm guessing his inability to relate was a huge factor. And frankly, I think this reason might stand for the non murderous other nerdy men who face social rejection - they may not know how to relate to women. The good news for the socially stable is that this is a skill they can totally develop. I don't think it's all about society failing to reward the good.

Blaming the Victim

Historically, I've argued your perspective myself. I thought that men who were socially and reproductively disenfranchised were "to blame" for their situation. Or, if not to blame, at least possessed a "deficit" that warranted their social exclusion. I still offer men who are in this situation self-help advice and social skills. I think that learning those skills can indeed help to alleviate the frustration, pressure, and disenfranchisement.

However, from a larger perspective, it is also blaming the victim. The truth of the matter is that female sexuality and mate choice is extremely influenced by social forces (see Roy Baumeister's Erotic Plasticity). Essentially, the masses of women are persuaded by whatever is socially deemed high status. If neuroscientists are famous...they get the girls. If rock stars and serial killers are famous, women go in that direction. Yes, yes...not ALL women. But, enough to make a difference in the social and reproductive rewards to men for a given type of behavior.

Now, we live in a society that devalues and marginalizes "good" male behavior. The average, nice, hard-working guy is the punchline of social jokes. In contrast, various forms of deviant behavior are seen as high status. So, that behavior is rewarded, while "good" guys are overlooked by large groups of women. If, as a society, we made a bigger deal of these "good" behaviors, the mating choices of women would follow suit.

Additionally, what pokes a hole in your argument is the fact that serial killers (and many celebrities and rock stars for that matter) have an "inability to relate". Yet, because of the fame and status given them by society, they don't have a problem getting love and sex. So, other than choosing the "wrong" occupation, it isn't really about the guy's social skills at all. In fact, women are choosing HOLMES himself now that he is a "famous" killer. So, if his social skills deficit was really the driving factor, rather than his socially devalued status, why is he so "hot" and "sexy" now? I seriously doubt his ability to relate has gotten any better.

That, again, is my point. If we want a society with more good men, we need to give them respect and status. That, in turn, will drive female mate choice. Anything else is a temporary fix at best. It is also asking individual men to simply cope with social punishment that is not their fault.

I will indeed continue to help men (and women) cope and find social success in this bad situation. However, I will not blame them for a situation that they have not made...

It's hard for me to

It's hard for me to understand why it ISN'T easy to imagine that James Holmes - who murdered 12 people, including a six year old girl, and attempted to mow down 50+ people who were primarily in his peer group - probably was lacking empathy with the people he attempted to date. And again - those women who are groupies for serial killers probably wouldn't be appropriate men for the nice, nerdy men who you coach, primarily because they're nuts and are attracted to other people who are nuts. They are not looking to be treated with empathy probably because of their own self loathing. No sane person would want to date these women either. The friends of my husbands are engineers, teachers, tech workers, more engineers (I live in Sillicon Valley), designers, etc. Lots of nerdy men find mates. They aren't serial killers or rock stars and none of the women who married them would ever write to someone who was. And women who are still chasing rock stars past the age of 25 or so probably need their own psychological coaching to make healthier dating choices. I feel we're painting in too broad of strokes. If we want to say that society glorifies violence and badassness to an unhealthy degree and that affects men and women both - sure. The flip side is that women are supposed to have long, straight, shiny hair, gigantic boobs, tiny waists, lots of money for clothes and other "high status" features that have nothing to do with being a good person. None of this is good for any of us. Yes, I think people need to have awareness of this dynamic in society but I also think they can choose people who are mature enough to see past it and make healthier, more realistic choices. I think sane, grounded people can choose not to succumb. I know I'm getting a little heated in this and I want you to know that I respect the point you're making - I do think there's something to it. I just think it's much more nuanced and that men and women both have more personal agency within our messed up culture.

Thanks

I appreciate and respect your perspective as well. Although I'm focused on men in this article, I agree that society often rewards women for unhealthy and unproductive behavior too. I'm also glad to hear that Silicon Valley is a haven for good, intellectual males. I will send my MIT boys in that direction :)

I believe the only discrepancy we have is a philosophical one about human nature in the aggregate. Frankly, I believe the group of individuals who are "sane", "grounded", and can make "healthy, realistic choices" that are divergent from social pressure is the minority. I'm glad where you are that isn't the case. I too try to surround myself with friends and neighborhoods with such people. However, looking at both social behavior in the news and social psychology research, I tend to think that our areas are the exception. Although no on wants to admit "they" would, the majority of individuals often cave to social pressure. They are at the mercy of social rewards and punishments.

Given that, I also don't devalue the women who write to serial killers as "nuts" either. They have simply succumbed to the social influence and status bestowed upon those men. They are a victim of social pressure too. They are just dancing to the beat of the drum.

Overall then, I agree that some women and men can go against the social influence and make healthy and good choices. But, for the rest who are "impressionable", shouldn't we change the structure to help? Rather than blame these women and men to psychologically distance ourselves from them, why not guide them in a better direction too? Why should ANY woman write a serial killer...or ANY man become one? All I'm saying is that, until the majority of people are "self-actualized" like you and your friends, it would probably be good to not stack the deck against them making healthy decisions...

"And women who are still

"And women who are still chasing rock stars past the age of 25 or so..." Unfortunately women 25 and under are the primary sexual and marriage target of nerdy men, sociopathic men, rock star men, athletic men... So that's where the "boring" nerds are rejected and start to get frustrated.

"They aren't serial killers or rock stars and none of the women who married them would ever write to someone who was" = This person doesn't know what 50 Shades of Grey is.

Also, both men and women are attracted to things that have nothing to do with being a good person. I wish more people would talk about that rather than assuming that a guy is a bad person because women don't find him sexy (and doing their best to ignore the fact that many otherwise sane women have a thing for sociopaths).

What?

Anonymous wrote:
And again I think there's a bigger point here that's not getting hit: The fact is that James Holmes was a smart guy who was also pretty good looking.

He's terribly ugly, If you find that attractive your standards must be extremely low.

James was introverted shy,

James was introverted shy, not outgoing. It just makes it a bit harder to make friends, not that they cannot have them. than outgoing guys who are far more Narcissistic who have a tendency to draw women to them. You find those types on Facebook with large numbers of fans reaching as high as 4,000. James far from it.
A mental Illness causes an increase in s... prowess. Their behaviour becomes much more erratic which would turn people away and under depression they would become far more withdrawn. There are some studies that suggest Dope causes depression and can bring out Schizophrenia in a person who has the predisposition for it. They also use it to self medicate.
If he had been living with his parents, they would have noticed his odd behaviour. Playing the same song over and over again past midnight as illness causes sleep deprivation and hence leads further to a psychosis.
His isolation in another city and not having his old friends to rely on would make the problem much worse.

To make some assumptions you

To make some assumptions you also need to have some degree and experience with those suffering from Mental illness. Often under a form of psychosis the s..x drive speeds up hence the need for hookers perhaps. They have sleep deprivation which also makes a psychosis come out far more to play. Very bright nerdy type students have a very high expectation in their own achievements, so the failing of an exam perhaps because a failing mental health would act as a trigger which can lead to the development of psychosis with a diagnosis such as Schizophrenia with delusions and Paranoia. They often suffer with depression as well. He could also have been given the wrong medication which can have an opposite effect. They often self medicate themselves on Dope. It may also have been possible that the PH D students were playing around with LSD which used to be an experiment with neuroscience yonks ago. The psychiatrist was also using them for her own gain in reseach material. The psychiatrist sounds far more Narcissistic.

To make some assumptions you

To make some assumptions you also need to have some degree and experience with those suffering from Mental illness. Often under a form of psychosis the s..x drive speeds up hence the need for hookers perhaps. They have sleep deprivation which also makes a psychosis come out far more to play. Very bright nerdy type students have a very high expectation in their own achievements, so the failing of an exam perhaps because a failing mental health would act as a trigger which can lead to the development of psychosis with a diagnosis such as Schizophrenia with delusions and Paranoia. They often suffer with depression as well. He could also have been given the wrong medication which can have an opposite effect. They often self medicate themselves on Dope. It may also have been possible that the PH D students were playing around with LSD which used to be an experiment with neuroscience yonks ago. The psychiatrist was also using them for her own gain in reseach material. The psychiatrist sounds far more Narcissistic.

To make some assumptions you

To make some assumptions you also need to have some degree and experience with those suffering from Mental illness. Often under a form of psychosis the s..x drive speeds up hence the need for hookers perhaps. They have sleep deprivation which also makes a psychosis come out far more to play. Very bright nerdy type students have a very high expectation in their own achievements, so the failing of an exam perhaps because a failing mental health would act as a trigger which can lead to the development of psychosis with a diagnosis such as Schizophrenia with delusions and Paranoia. They often suffer with depression as well. He could also have been given the wrong medication which can have an opposite effect. They often self medicate themselves on Dope. It may also have been possible that the PH D students were playing around with LSD which used to be an experiment with neuroscience yonks ago. The psychiatrist was also using them for her own gain in research material.

...post has nothing to do about introverts.

...rather, more relevant to Life History Theory and male reproductive variance.

Lots of introverted pop stars who have groupies lined up outside.

Really?

mmills wrote:
...rather, more relevant to Life History Theory and male reproductive variance.

Lots of introverted pop stars who have groupies lined up outside.

It's almost as if these men command resources that they can invest into a child or something!

"Countless women write love

"Countless women write love letters and beg for conjugal visits to death row inmates (see here)."

Countless! I'm not going to lay an exact number on it, but I'll exaggerate to the greatest extent possible, ignoring the fact that the majority of women do not write love letters to murderers or visit serial killers!

"Many other men face that similar situation."

Hence why so many unattractive men in our society turn to massacres! An astute observation, my good sir!

"More women love killers than nerds."

Do you have any statistics to support this? At all? This doesn't make sense, even according to evolutionary theory. Murderers in our society are economically disenfranchised as a result of their crimes, making them poor mate choices for women as they cannot provide resources. Admittedly, they might be selected for genetic quality indicated by their aggression.

A majority of women do not

A majority of women do not write letters to any single person.

Countless women? 200 or more per day to be exact..

Hello Anonymous,
Jeremy did include supporting articles, one which stated that serial killer Ted Bundy received 200 love letters PER DAY while in prison. The article also featured psychologist Arthur Aron who estimated that 20-30% of the population is afraid of "commitment" and so this said group seeks out "poor mate choices" such as serial killers due to the fact that there is no real emotional investment, rather pure fantasy. Also, you answer your own questions with your very last sentence in your post-one of the reasons Jeremy indirectly stated in the post :)

I am only one woman, but I

I am only one woman, but I love nerds much more than I love killers. I agree with the poster above. The statement that "More women love killers than nerds" is problematic. There might be women who love killers, who have a focus to pin their obsessions on, but there are women all over the world who love nerds specific.

Observations

Beyond the links I posted, I do not have a study that specifically cites love letters to nerd versus killers. But, I stand by the statement based on observation. I assume that some women will have to differentiate themselves. Each person, after all, has his/her own unique tastes. My point was, in aggregate, this mate preference does indeed stand.

How do I "know"? I live outside of Cambridge, MA. Arguably the "nerd" capital of the world. I don't see "groupies" screaming to have conjugal visits with the physics boys at MIT when they get out of class. In fact, I don't see those guys with many (or sometimes any) available partners. They are calling me (or other dating coaches and pick-up artists) just to find out how to get a girl to like them. Holmes (and other death row inmates) sure doesn't need that advice.

Given that, I applaud you on your taste in men. But, for now, you are in the minority. Please start a trend and persuade your friends to date as you do. Start a club of physics groupies. Maybe then, we can change the social rewards and have men continue to act in ways that are best for society.

Forest Gump

An example for us all...hot girlfriend, compassionate mother, white male, and no ego. "I'm not a smart man...but I know what love is." If I could cut all of the shit out of my head which gets in the way of that truth, ....(dear universe, I am not praying for a brain injury...just help me meditate more often. Thanks,E P.S and by meditate I don't mean coma.)
I agree with your point of view that Holmes is an unloved angry boy who took out his pain on others...shame, blame to the extreme.
If we are striving on the 'good guy' path but the integrity isn't there...I guess this is the result. (like, why bother being good and trying so hard at life if it's not getting me what I want/need/or feel I deserve? I feel this way sometimes about my weight...like why am I am denying myself chocolate cake when my butt looks so lumpy today?) Norman Bates killed a hot girl because he was letting his mother emotionally incest him from the grave...kind of a twist on the 'I do not want what I have not got' principle....narcissistic rage...how do choose morality, goodness, kindness and feel (fulfilled by) the rewards of that choice despite the sick messages around us?
Forest Gump...he wins. Leggo my ego.

Love Gump

I too meditate on the ways of Gump lol. I watch that movie about every six months or so to clear my head out.

Then, I get back to the world of social psychology. It is a world where we can't (and shouldn't) count on ideals and integrity. In that world, reward is king. With some exceptions, people do what the social structure, roles, and rewards lead them to do.

So, if we want more men on the "good guy" path, it needs to be the most rewarding path as well. Otherwise, in at least a minority of cases, frustration and self-interest will win out over integrity. Then, like Holmes, deviant behavior can result. Because Holmes isn't the only person out there with such weaknesses, mental frailties, and empathy deficits, it might behoove us as a society to change the social rewards to keep them going the right way.

I, for one, would feel more comfortable with a "reward" backup to the initial "integrity" system keeping people together.

Progenitor of anger

It's refreshing to read a theory, finally, that shows how society shapes and polishes either its finest or worst. Look at how the rump-presenting press swoons over Olympic male athletes in London! Socially, no regular guy has a chance today, while every woman has all the chances, more so if she has taken care of herself. If men ever go the way of women, women will be equally disadvantaged.

Interesting, this young gal seems to be in your camp, also.
http://progenitor-of-anger.tumblr.com/

All the chances?

If "every woman has all the chances", I'd like to know which line to stand in. You must not be a woman - because it's tough for us out there too. Among my small sample of single friends, we're all just trying to find a nice guy who will return a text message and maybe treat us like we matter. Is that so much to ask?

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Jeremy Nicholson, M.S.W., Ph.D., is a doctor of social and personality psychology, with a focus on influence, persuasion, and dating.

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