Population follows Freud’s claim that fire has











Population Paper

Bryan A. Kelly

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Penn State University 













What is pyromania? Pyromania is
classified as an impulse control disorder which is further defined as a failure
to resist or restrain from an urge or temptation. Therefore, pyromania is an
impulse control disorder in which a person meets the following criteria;
purposely setting fire on more than one occasion. Obtaining pleasure, relief or
gratification when setting or witnessing a fire. When setting fire, it’s not
done for monetary gain, to express anger or vengeance nor in response to a
delusion or hallucination. According to a study done by the Law Enforcement Assistance
Administration, in 1979 it was revealed that 14% of fires were initiated by
pyromaniacs as well as other mental conditions.  This paper will take a deeper look at pyromania,
its incidence
and prevalence rates, causes, different treatments, and impact on individuals
functioning and to raise some awareness of this rare but dangerous condition.



Firsetting is a common
behavior with over 62,000 instances occurring yearly in the United States. The estimated
cost in yearly losses is around $ 1 billion dollars. Fire setting is one of the
easiest crimes to commit because there is no weapon involved and without
witness. It can be done impulsively and without any interaction. Despite there
being so many cases in the court system, there hasn’t been much attention brought
to this condition. Data is hard to come by for pyromania because often times
law enforcement tends to lump pyromania with arsonist acts. The problem with that
is that courts interchangeably use the terms fire setting, arson, and pyromania
but not all fire setters have committed arson, and most arsonists do not meet
the criteria for pyromania. The public may be better served if experts did a
better job at educating authorities as to the differences between them to allow
for more accurate data collection.



Incidence and Prevalence

 According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V; American
Psychiatric Association, (APA, 2013), “Pyromania occurs much more often in males, especially those
with poorer social skills and learning difficulties.” Some attribute the
disorder to being a “male condition”, meaning that males are much more likely
to be susceptible to the condition due to the nature of the condition and the
nature of males in general. Many feel this follows Freud’s claim that fire has special
symbolic relationships to males and their sexual urge. Individuals feel like
they are in control of the fire which gives them a feeling of dominance and
control. Some studies have indicated that children set fires so they feel like
they can have control over adults.  With
that being said, the data to establish an age of onset is difficult and data
insufficient to draw any definitive conclusions to the onset of pyromania in
children. According to the DSM-V, “Juvenile fire setting is usually associated with conduct
disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or an adjustment
disorder(APA,2013).” Given this wide array of possible associated conditions,
it is often hard to judge whether or not an adolescent suffers from pyromania
or not.



            As stated before, the prevalence of
pyromania is unknown but according to the Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V; American Psychiatric
Association, 2013) the
condition was shown to occur in approximately 1.13% of the sample population. (APA,
2013) While this is a very rare condition it’s also very hard to collect data. “In
some cases, it is difficult to come up with a definite statistic because some
acts of pyromania are incorporated in arson figures reported by law enforcement
agencies. In order to find statistics of pyromania, forensic experts should
analyze arson cases and check on arsonists who are in prison or in psychiatric
facilities.” (Peterson, 2015) As of 2010 it was reported in a study, that most
patients that were diagnosed with pyromania were most likely to be Caucasian,
male between the age of 18-35 years old, born in the United States, and living
west of Mississippi. (Rebecca Frey, 2011) Another frightening statistic that
was found during a study done by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
is that the younger the fire setter was thought to be, the more likely he/she
was to have started a fire that involved an injury or death.




            Although, much isn’t known about
pyromania, perhaps a good way to get a better understanding of this condition
would be to understand what can cause this condition inclusive of personal and
environmental factors. Anti-social behaviors, as well as attitudes, have been
known to trigger the onset of pyromania. One well-known fact about pyromanias
is that fire stetting typically isn’t their first criminal offense. For those
diagnosed with pyromania, vandalism of property made up 19% of offenders while
non-violent sexual offenses accounted for 18% and forcible rape was about 11%
of offenders. The main environmental factors that can affect pyromania have
been identified as poor parental supervision/guidance as well as lack of
emotional support and general neglect from parents.


            In addition, these individuals are
acting on pure, unchecked urge and impulse. Many times, the individual cannot
control their urge without the help of others, which is why someone who suffers
from this condition can be so dangerous. These individuals often repeat their
offense because of the pleasure and gratification they are receiving from their
actions. Often times they have been reported saying that they felt better or
relief after lighting a fire which leads to them lighting more fires in the
future. Once the fire has been started, it has been reported that the
individual does not have any remorse about the crime they are committing nor
damage and harm they are causing.


            Another interesting correlation that
should be noted between fire setting at an early age and criminal offenses
later on in life i.e. Serial killer,
rapist, etc. (Weinblatt, 2013) According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders,
“Some researchers have
theorized that children and adolescents attracted to fire setting when they are
younger “graduate” in adult life to more serious crimes with a “macho” image,
including serial rape and
murder. A number of serial killers, including David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam”
killer, and David Carpenter, the so-called “Trailside Killer” of the San
Francisco Bay area, turned out to have been fire setters in their adolescence. David Berkowitz admitted
having started more than 2,000 fires in Brooklyn-Queens in the early 1970s.” It
is key to be able to detect symtoms in the early stages of life to prevent
future disorders and conditions. Pyromania in adult life results in a high rate
of comorbidity, which can include things such has mood disorders and substance
abuse and can also lead to other compulsive disorders.




As previously stated before individuals with
poor social skills are more likely to be diagnosed with pyromania. Typically,
these individuals struggle in society because of their poor social skills and
have a hard time functioning with everyday things like work, being part of a
family unit, and socialization. Individuals with pyromania put a lot of
pressure on their family’s due to their dangerous nature and troubled past and
can cost the of family tens of thousands of dollars in legal issues. Many times,
these individuals have a troubled past, it is a
well-known fact about pyromanias is that fire stetting typically isn’t their
first criminal offense. Like stated aboves, vandalism of property made up 19%
of offenders while non-violent sexual offenses accounted for 18% and forcible
rape was about 11% of offenders. This makes working difficult for them because of
their criminal history and their potential to commit another crime, also having
poor social skills. So therefore, individuals with pyromania have a hard time
functioning in society and lack the skills to properly function within society
and the work world.




If pyromania is left untreated then it can become
chronic. In most cases it has been reported that individuals with pyromania do
not seek out treatment for the disorder. “Individuals whose pyromania goes
into remission often engage in other impulsive or compulsive behaviors (e.g.,
gambling, substance use).” (Paul R, 2012). Like any illness, if it goes untreated
then there’s a serious risk of the illness becoming worse or evolving into
other conditions as highlighted above. Since there isn’t a lot of information
regarding this condition the general treatment regimen often times prescribed
is “what works best” for that specific person.


 Some adult
interventions that have been found to be useful in adults are cognitive
behavioral therapy conducted in psychiatric settings, behavioral aversion
therapy and general social skills treatment. “Furthermore, it is likely that
some firesetters, who show relatively high fire interest, and experience
significant physiological reinforcement from firesetting, may benefit from more
behavioral covert sensitization, or minimal physiological arousal
conditioning. Such techniques are designed to re-associate the pleasant
physiological experience of fire with unpleasant imagined consequences, and
aversive stimuli. Successful covert sensitization procedures have been reported
as resulting in positive consequences, for child and adult firesetters.” (Gannon,
Theresa, 2010). A lot of these treatments are met with varying results which is
dangerous because there is no definite way to effectively treat this disorder. Treatment
will depend on the professional’s knowledge and understanding of the condition.


there appear to be numerous firesetter treatment programs and initiatives in
use with, and specifically developed for child and adolescent firesetters there
are very few similar initiatives reported with adult firesetters. For example,
there are currently no standardized treatments for firesetters in the UK, US, or
Australasia.” (Gannon, Theresa, 2010). However, with the advances in medicine
in recent years there is a created hope for treatment of pyromania. As of right
now there is no specific medication known to help with pyromania. “There have
been no controlled trials of medication for pyromania. Treatments with
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), antiepileptic medications,
atypical antipsychotics, lithium, or anti-androgens have been proposed.” (Paul
R, 2012). Although no definitive pharmacological medicines approved, there
needs to be a renewed focus on interventions to treat this condition.





In conclusion, while pyromania is a rare not and
not well-defined condition, individuals with this condition can be very
dangerous and result in extreme property damage with a high risk to life. What
is known about pyromania is that it effects males about 20% more often than
females, the age of onset isn’t well known and the prevalence of the condition
in adolescents is hard to determine.  According to the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V; American Psychiatric Association, (APA, 2013) an
individual must meet the following criteria; purposely setting fire on more
than one occasion. Obtaining pleasure, relief or gratification when setting or
witnessing a fire. When setting fire, it’s not done for monetary gain, to
express anger or vengeance nor in response to a delusion or hallucination. Individuals
that suffer from pyromania have difficulty functioning in society due to their
poor social skills. Often times these individuals have a criminal history and
will have a hard time finding work and treatment is a “hit-or-miss “situation
for this condition as of right now. Since data is hard to come by for this
condition, professionals don’t have a great deal of knowledge surrounding pyromania
making it difficult for a clear-cut form of treatment. Some interventions have
been shown to be effective. There is no known medication right now for
pyromania but several drugs are being investigated. With that being said, there
needs to be more of a focus on understanding this condition to better create
effective interventions.





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