Theories on arson: The action systems model

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Book Chapter

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Fritzon, K. (2012). Theories on arson: The action systems model. In G. L. Dickens, P. A. Sugarman & T. A. Gannon (Eds.), Firesetting and Mental Health: Theory, Research and Practice (pp. 28- 47). London, UK: RCPsych Publications.

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2012 HERDC submission. FoR code: 170104

© Copyright Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2012





This chapter develops an account of the utility of psychological models as an aid to understanding the crime of arson. A brief overview of some of the theories and typologies previously espoused is first presented. As its main focus the chapter then defines and provides an account of an 'action systems’ model, which, in contrast to other arson typologies, produces empirically testable hypotheses. It goes on to describe how this model posits arson, and other crimes, as explicable along two axes relating to the arson target (object or person) and the arson objective (expressive or instrumental). The use of multidimensional scaling (MDS) analysis to map the characteristics of arson and arsonists onto these four modes is also described. The idea is developed of arsonists with psychiatric history as a distinct group, and the relationships between this distinct group of arsonists and the various arson modes are explored. The chapter lastly summarises how a typology based on arson mode and arsonist characteristics might affect clinical treatment.

Throughout the chapter the term ‘arson’ is used to denote adults who have set fires that in most cases would meet the legal criteria for arson. However, some studies are cited that include individuals who self-reported firesetting behaviour and were not necessarily convicted in court. Thus, these individuals are legally speaking not ‘arsonists’; however, for simplicity the term ‘arson’ is used consistently throughout.

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