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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
iors activating a network of associated ideas), desensitization to violence, and attitude changes, as well as the direct imitation of behavior (Berkowitz, 1984). For individuals who rely heavily on the media for worldly information and escape and have a tenuous grasp of reality, the influence can be significant. The available evidence supports the contention that predisposed at-risk individuals who are primed by media crime characterizations are the primary agents of copycat crime (Comstock, 1980).
One conceptual model shows copycat crime as resulting from the interaction of factors in four areas: the initial crime, media coverage, social contextual factors, and copycat criminal characteristics (Surette, 1990). The model denotes a process in which particular, usually highly newsworthy and successful initial crimes and criminals (after interacting with media coverage) emerge as candidates to be copied. The pool of potential copycat criminals is affected by media coverage and other social context factors, such as norms regarding deviance and violence, the existence of social conflicts, the number of opportunities available to employ a copycat crime technique, the nature and pervasiveness of media coverage, and the size of the preexisting criminalized population. The author concludes that copycat crime appears to be a persistent social phenomenon prevalent enough to influence the total crime picture mostly by influencing crime techniques rather than criminal motivations (Surette, 1990).
The risk of an individual’s committing suicide may increase as the number of suicides in his or her peer group or community increases or as the number of suicide reports or publicity increases in the media (Gould, 1990). Both anecdotal accounts and epidemiological research indicate that significant clustering does occur, but it does not account for a large proportion of total youth suicides.
An analysis of National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) mortality data indicates that clusters of completed suicides occur primarily among adolescents and young adults, but even in this age group such clusters account for no more than 5 percent of all suicides (Gould et al., 1990a, 1990b). Further analyses of the mortality data reveal that significant time-space clustering occurred among teenagers (ages 15–19) and that these outbreaks of suicide occurred more frequently than expected by chance alone. Moreover, the significant clustering of suicide occurred primarily among teenagers and young adults, with minimal effects beyond age 24. Clustering was two to four times more common among adolescents and young adults than among other age groups.
Public health researchers have argued that suicide clusters are caused in part by social contagion (Robbins and Conroy, 1983; Davidson and