The attempt to use mental illness or an “unknown motivation” to explain Spec. Ivan Lopez’s shooting rampage at Ft. Hood seems to have overlooked evidence about three joint contributing factors to the violence. To prevent similar tragedies in the future and to increase safety in organizational settings, it is necessary to understand these factors.
First, the most important contributing factor involves Lopez’ perception that his superiors’ rejection of his request to take a temporary family leave was totally unfair. He engaged in an intense verbal altercation with the office personnel apparently with the intention to correct “the mistake.” When the effort failed, his rage preceded the shooting spree. Apparently, Lopez’ sense of frustration resulted from his belief that justice had been violated in this event and in his several recent experiences and there were no alternatives to restore it except resorting to the violence. It should be emphasized that being mistreated was only his perception; it may or may not be the reality. Even though unfairness or disrespect existed in this and other decisions regarding him , there was absolutely no rationalization for the use of violence. However, interpersonal provocations, particularly accompanied by perceived abuse of authority and violation of justice, serve as the major situational triggering factor for anger and interpersonal aggression (e.g., Anderson & Bushman, 2002; Miller, 2001).
Second, another contributing factor was the availability of a gun in the already tense situation. The gun provided the means to carry out his aggressive intention. Research has shown that availability of weapons or mere presence of a weapon cue (e.g., a picture of a gun) in a situation increases the likelihood that a person will behave aggressively (see Engelhardt & Bartholow, 2013).
The third contributing factor to the violence was Mr. Lopez’ propensity of a strong control or self-regulation of his internal anger (low expression of anger), but ruminating on and mentally pre-occupied with violent reactions to the targets of his resentment. On one hand, he appeared normal and polite and showed no indication about his likely violence either to himself or to others when he was fully examined by a psychiatrist last month. On the other hand, privately, however, he described in his facebook that "I have just lost my inner peace, full of hatred.” The strong inhibition of anger often leads to violence when a particular time and place converge because when anger that is kept in check exceeds the person's psychological capacity to control in response to a triggering event, it manifests as strong aggression (e.g., Davey, Day, & Howells, 2005). Sadly, mental health professionals have not paid enough attention to the issue of over-controlled anger and its effects.
Based on the discussions, strategies that help avoid similar tragedies in workplaces need to focus on how to deescalate interpersonal conflicts. It will be very helpful to establish some organizational committees that have the real power to review and handle complaints about unfair treatment and issues of abuse of authority. It will also be very beneficial for mental health professionals and leaders to give services to persons with the issue of over-controlled anger. How about gun control? Let politicians continue to debate about the issue.
Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2002). Human aggression? Annual Review of Psychology. 53, 27-51.
Davey, L., Day, A., & Howells, K. (2005). Anger, over-control and serious violent offending. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 10, 624-635.
Engelhardt, C. R., & Bartholow, B. D. (2013). Effects of situational cues on aggressive behavior. Social And Personality Psychology Compass, 7(10), 762-774.
Miller, D. T. (2001). Disrespect and the experience of injustice. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 527-553.