(Received 21 February 1979; accepted 23 April 1979)
Published Online: October
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Most psychiatrists have little contact with arsonists. Those who work with juvenile delinquents will have seen some adolescent firesetters, often of limited intelligence with schizoid personality or other behavior disorders. On rare occasions the compulsive firesetter, driven sexually, will engage in repetitive events and be found masturbating at the scene of a fire. Vandalism or revenge fires may be directed at schools, public buildings, and employers. Similarly, psychotic firesetters are caught in the throes of their bizarre practices—burning churches or other symbolic institutions. Many criminals show a history of adolescent firesetting. Nonetheless, psychiatrists see few arsonists. It is unclear if the arsonists seen are typical because so few are actually caught. Thus those caught may be singularly incompetent in one way or another.
Professor of psychiatry and professor of community medicine, Rutgers Medical School, College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Piscataway, N.J.
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