Norway was no exception. Every time tragedy strikes at the hands of a killer, i.e., someone whom others don't understand (and likely shouldn't), I always cringe and wait for it: that time when people remark that "he was always a loner." Well, that doesn't exactly say nice things about loners. Is that fair? Why do we do it? And why does that headline attract our attention?
There are likely a number of reasons why we like to pin such violence and deviant behavior on being a loner. We have no great answers to this, especially as our focus is frequently on the tragedy itself. But we should start to think about why this might be so.
One possible reason for focusing on a tendency to be a loner and to assume a correlation between that temperament and violence may be a process of dissociating further from the killer. It may be an observation that people who don't like people don't associate with them. It is likely some combination of both factors. However, do we really feel so much better when we label the killer as the outgroup? Probably not, if you are used to also being labeled as the reclusive self-defined outgroup!
Naturally, I find it interesting that MSN reported in a headline that "In rural town, Norway attacker seemed a city loner." There are many of us who don't feel like we belong, and more still who don't make "belonging" to a large community a top priority. But what scares me most is the tendency to conflate a preference for solitude with pathology. Burger's (1995) measurement model is a component of social introversion, one of the four domains of introversion that I propose with Jonathan Cheek and Julie Norem (2011). In essence, some people just like being alone, they prefer solitary activities, and "alone time" is peaceful and preferable.