Wild Psychology - Psych Week

By Timothy Dillon

Photo courtesy of Hiloxy

Violence, by definition, is traumatic. Like the events in Boston last month, they leave people physically scarred and many more psychologically scarred. In the hours follow the bombings the search for the meaning behind this random act of violence was immediate and expected. The mainstream media grasped at straws of misinformation, while the police diligently sifted through the evidence and carefully targeted and captured the Tsarnaev brothers.

While this atrocity was truly senseless it was not without reason. From the initial interrogations with the surviving Tsarnaev brother, the two were radicalized. A somewhat distant family relation to the brothers claimed that the older of the two, Tamerlan, was inspired to these believes through online communities and a concern over American wars overseas, though emphasized his respect for other religions. There was method to this madness and that is a frightening thought. Yet a more chilling thought is violence that lacks any method, or purpose, or reason; violence for violence’s sake.

Wilding is a term that was coined during the Central Park Jogger case. In April 1989, Trisha Meili was brutally beaten and raped in central park and the five assailants who were arrested later reported sang a hip-hop while in jail where the police misheard the phrase, “wild thing” as “wilding.” From here the term took on a life of its own, coming to mean events of terrorizing crime toward complete strangers without warning and specific motive.

The five youths convicted of the attack have since had all charges vacated in light of new evidence and while there is still some speculation as their involvement, the word itself has survived their convictions.

This past April in Baltimore, a yoga studio issued a statement about an act of wilding that happened in close proximity to their location, encouraging its patrons and other in the area to be vigilant, and that groups of teens should not be regarded as harmless. In Chicago, the word has been incorporated in law enforcement’s vernacular, and have seen an increase in the advent of spring.

While wilding is now accepted as a type of crime that regularly occurs, the reasons behind it are still speculative. Theories ranging from assailants trying to build a reputation or street cred to actually trying to disguise a robbery, as has been done with flash mobs. Yet the word itself suggests this may just very well be youths acting wild: a form of hijinks run amok.

“Certainly, peer influence can exacerbate some destructive and violent behavioral tendencies and lead to riskier choices,”says Dr. Jane Joseph, Professor of Neurosciences at the University of South Carolina.

Joseph’s research finds evidence to suggest that brain structure can play a role in risk seeking behavior, but also accepts that social pressure can lead to increased involvement by peers that would not normally engage in such activities.

Wilding, though, is beyond simple risk seeking. These youths are violent and attack without bias. Similarly, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is considering a much more narrow definition of the harmless sounding phrase “running amok” — one that attempts to remove the cultural context of traditional definitions of amok to better approach behavior associated with wilding and its treatment. Yet running amok seems to be triggered as randomly as it is dispersed, completely without warning to both the assailant and the victim. These planned wilding instances are almost more similar to a berserker mindset.

Vikings pillaged, raped, and plundered Europe for centuries and their fierce indiscriminate raids gave birth to the word berserker as we know it. Once more, these attacks, while wild in nature, were targeted at people with purpose of striking terror and fear into the opposition. It was once suggested that going berserk or “blind rage syndrome” be added to the DSM-III under Dissociative Disorders. The nature of such a disorder is difficult to study and as we know, these are isolated incidents. Currently the DSM defines these types of outbursts as disassociative disorder called intermittent explosive disorder.

Wilding as we know it, seems to lack the intensity of Viking raids. Thankfully there are few reports of deaths, but there are still disturbing reports of violence, like in Chicago where pedestrians and a mounted policeman were assaulted by a large gang of teens out wilding. Seventeen were arrested. Or in April 2010, where multiple people were arrested after taking part in an annual Easter Night wilding episode.

The NYPD has adapted their crime fighting techniques to accommodate for the times, searching social media websites to see if they can find any information or coordination about wilding plans. And yet while law enforcement have adapted, there has yet to be an explanation for this bizarre phenomenon.

As for the psychology of this, it is rooted in disassociating the person from the act — the ‘wilder’ foregoing conscious thought in favor of an adrenaline rush and cheap thrills. Yet somewhere between running amok and going berserk, there is a newly branded type of violence perpetuated by youthful rebellion and peer pressure that targets the innocent in order to strike fear into a person.