MU research shows extreme belief could lead to acts of violence

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COLUMBIA - MU School of Medicine research revealed that factors other than mental illness could lead to criminal acts of violence. After analyzing the case of Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, MU Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry Tahir Rahman and his two colleagues found out Breivik had no psychological illness, and his team came up a new concept of "extreme overvalued belief." 

Rahman defines “extreme overvalued belief” as "a belief that is shared by others and often relished, amplified and defended by the accused. The individual has an intense emotional commitment to the belief and may act violently as a result of that belief. Although the individual may suffer from other forms of mental illness, the belief and the actions associated with it are not the result of insanity."

"I think it's important for the legal system to understand the difference between cases where insanity is raised as defense and where personality disorders happening in a person who actually does understand right from wrong for instance, but still committing act which appears to be psychotic," Rahman said.

Breivik killed 77 people in a 2011 car bombing in Oslo and a mass shooting at a youth camp on the island of Utøya in Norway. Breivik stated that the purpose of the attacks was to save Europe from multiculturalism. Breivik was sentenced to 21 years in prison.

"When the big mass shooting happens, the first thing we all jump to crazy, psychotic, delusional, and that's not the case," Rahman said.

Rahman said no one is immune from developing extreme beliefs, and those extreme beliefs could include politics, religion, the environment, or abortion.

"They can take on many different forms, but the belief is not something that is psychotic or delusional. It's actually more of a product of an amplified belief system," Rahman said. 

One opponent of abortion said she would still show respect to those people who make their own choices and committing violent actions is not the way to handling people who make their own choices.

"It's certainly not taking action of any kind against those who are making their choices for their own lives. We do have choices, I will never harm anyone who has gone into Planned Parenthood or abortion clinic," the opponent said.

A coordinator of Korean Catholic group in Columbia, Eun Sook Kim, said she completely disagrees with those violent belief-based actions, and those people who have "extreme overvalued belief" might misunderstand their beliefs.

"Every religion has the same point - love. Love is not kill each other or hurting each other," Kim said.

Rahman also said the first step to prevent this is making people aware of the concept of "extreme overvalued belief."

"We tell people to be careful about drinking and driving, we tell people to be careful about teen pregnancy and drug use and HIV prevention. In a similar way, I think that people need to know that extreme beliefs can develop in almost any society and any culture," Rahman said.