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Title: Causal and contributing factors to firesetting amongst individuals with learning disabilities
Author: Hiser, Natalie
Awarding Body: University of London
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2001
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Fires that are set deliberately are at great cost to the United Kingdom. Research suggests that, within the general population, individuals who commit arson tend to have histories of psychosocial disadvantage, poor social skills, low assertiveness, external loci of control, increased interest in fire. Feelings of anger, abuse, a wish for revenge or change in life circumstances appear to precede the actual fire setting. It has been suggested that people with learning disabilities may be over-represented amongst arsonists, However, few studies have focused on arsonists with learning disabilities and we know very little about this group. In order to address this shortcoming, the present study set out to investigate causal and contributing factors to fire setting among the learning disability population. In the first part of the study, fire setters are compared to other offenders and non-offenders, matched for ability, on five factors: assertiveness, locus of control, self-esteem, anger and fire interest. In addition, key demographic and historical data was collected on each participant and compared across groups. Arson offenders were more likely to have an external locus of control and showed a greater interest in fire than the other two groups. In addition, both offender groups had experienced more psychosocial disadvantage, including abuse, early losses, and disruption of schooling. In the second part of the study, fire setting and the broader context in which it occurred was explored in depth in interviews with ten of the arson offenders. These interviews were analysed using qualitative methodology and several themes seemed to emerge. Participants described negative childhood experiences including having experienced physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and rejection. Participants also described having early behaviour problems and of feeling excluded and different to other children. Fire setting itself was often immediately preceded by negative events and experiences which were frequently interpersonal in nature and seemed to 'mirror' experiences in childhood, e.g. feeling rejected. These experiences were often associated with a sense of injustice and angry feelings. At the time of setting fires participants described negative personal circumstances e.g. substance misuse and few, if any, supportive relationships. Participants described planning fire setting, often in some detail, however they showed naivety in their awareness of the dangers of fire and in their beliefs about being able to escape punishment. As a result of setting fires individuals described positive outcomes which motivated and maintained their firesetting including, feelings of excitement and pleasure, a release of tension, a sense of power, a sense of belonging and importance and obtaining help with difficulties. Clinical and research implications of these findings are discussed.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available