Making an Arsonist: A Psychological Approach to Understanding Expressive Arson

Dara Mojtahedi, Rebecca Prince, Saskia Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The offence of arson comes under the category of property crime, although the serious consequences of the offence often have a huge impact on both people and public costs, with serious injury and death potential outcomes. As with many crimes, there are various motivations that may behind a person committing arson. These can be understood under whether the offence was instrumental and therefore carrying out the crime for personal gain, or expressive, carrying out the offence due to difficulty in expressing their
emotions [3]. Instrumental arsonists may be easier to detect due to an often obvious financial or personal motivation [4,5,7], and these offenders are generally more common within the population of arsonists. However, perhaps more important to explore in relation to where psychology can best aid understanding and inform practice, is in cases where there is little or no instrumental value. These expressive arsonists are significantly more likely to reoffend than their instrumental counterparts [11], adding further to the
need to gain a greater understanding of the factors that play a role in such individuals’ trajectories. The present paper reviews the current literature surrounding expressive arson to present a more comprehensive understanding of the factors that contribute to this deviant behaviour. In doing so, the present paper draws on explanations from developmental, psychopathological and personality psychology to critically form such an understanding and present this in an understandable way that possesses heuristic value for the psychological community with an interest in this area.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94-99
Number of pages6
JournalEC Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2017


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