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Young Killer Characteristics Revealed in Study

Update Date: Oct 22, 2014 04:26 PM EDT
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Murderers share common traits, according to a new study.

Researchers compared traits of people who commit homicide to those who do not and found that that the similarities outweigh the differences between the two groups.

"Based on a whole slew of characteristics that we know predict and differentiate criminal behavior - a wide variety of criminal behavior: theft, violence, drug use - can we distinguish from those characteristics the individuals who are charged with a homicide and those who are not?" co-researcher Dr. Alex Piquero, Ashbel Smith Professor of criminology at The University of Texas at Dallas, said in a news release. "We found only five factors that were able to distinguish people who commit homicide from people who don't."

Researchers analyzed data from 1,354 youths charged with serious crimes by looking at how eight demographic characteristics and 35 risk factors distinguished the 18 juveniles charged with homicide from those who were not.

The findings revealed five risk factors that could help predict homicidal behavior: older age, lower IQ, higher perceptions of living in a chaotic community and higher prevalence of gun-carrying.

However, lower IQs and exposure to violence were statistically significant when all five factors were considered simultaneously.

"Adolescents who are continually exposed to violence in their neighborhoods may learn that it is acceptable to handle their problems through violence," said doctoral criminology student Stephanie M. Cardwell, a co-author of the paper. "If these adolescents find themselves in situations where violence is a possibility, they might take that option because they have learned it is acceptable to do so or that it may be necessary to do so in that context."

Researchers said the latest findings go against stereotypes that killers are mostly psychopaths, drug addicts or those with severe mental illness. They noted that most homicides tend to be "assaults gone bad" and are motivated by situations and emotions rather than planning or risk factors.

"From a policy perspective and a theory perspective, we shouldn't think about the world as, 'There are homicide offenders, and then there's everybody else,' and we should not try to think about policy programs that are going to prevent people from becoming homicide offenders," Piquero said. "We should be in the business of preventing anti-social behavior, because we do know very well that these risk factors predict all sorts of anti-social behavior."

The findings were published online in the journal Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice.

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