In this country and around the world, intentional firesetting (or arson) is the cause of tremendous losses, both human and financial. Despite these significant costs, and despite a large body of research and theory, our understanding of adult firesetting behavior and psychology is limited. Most of the research to date has been conducted with individuals in psychiatric hospitals who have engaged in firesetting behaviors or individuals in the community who have admitted to firesetting behaviors. This research has demonstrated that firesetters are a heterogeneous group of individuals that are difficult to classify. Nonetheless, typology studies have identified some themes that appear to recur frequently among psychiatric and community populations of firesetters. Specifically, research suggests that a large proportion of firesetters in psychiatric and community settings demonstrate ineffective interpersonal styles that include unassertiveness, inwardly directed hostility, and passive-aggressiveness. To date, little research has been carried out to test these theories with incarcerated arsonist (individuals charged and convicted for firesetting behaviors). The purpose of this study was to see if these theories of firesetting behaviors apply to incarcerated arsonists, and if unassertiveness, aggression, hostility, and passive-aggressiveness distinguish arson offenders from other offender types in prison. The results of this study indicate that arsonists are not significantly less assertive, less likely to express outward-directed aggression, or more passive-aggressive than other offender types. However, there is some indication that arsonists demonstrate less interpersonal warmth than other offender types, suggesting that they may be colder and more avoidant of interpersonal relationships, and may therefore require more extensive treatment engagement efforts.
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