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Tough to predict profile of mass shooter

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THURSDAY, Dec. 12, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- No single personality profile or set of warning signs can accurately predict who might commit a mass shooting such as occurred a year ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., a new report says.

The authors summarized research on primary and secondary programs meant to prevent gun violence. Primary programs can reduce risk factors for gun violence in the general population. Secondary programs seek to help individual people with emotional problems, or those who have conflicts with others, before they escalate into gun violence.

"In making predictions about the risk for mass shootings, there is no consistent psychological profile or set of warning signs that can be used reliably to identify such individuals in the general population," according to the American Psychological Association (APA) report released Thursday.

This means that primary prevention programs are critical, the authors pointed out.

A promising approach on the individual level is "behavioral threat assessment," which involves identifying and intervening with people who have threatened violence or displayed behavior that suggests they are about to commit violence, the report stated.

The authors also noted that the vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent, and despite extensive research, "there is only a moderate ability to identify individuals most likely to commit serious acts of violence."

When a person does use a gun against other people, the act is typically due to the interaction of personal, family, school, peer, community, and social and cultural factors over time, the report said.

While mental health treatment can reduce gun violence, the availability of such care remains "woefully insufficient," according to the authors.

Identifying the best ways to reduce gun violence should be based on scientific evidence, the paper noted.

"This report is an important examination of an urgent problem in our society," APA president Donald Bersoff said in an association news release. "While it points to policies and interventions that can help stem the spread of gun violence, much more research is needed. Psychology can make important contributions to evidence-based solutions that prevent gun violence."