Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Murder/Suicide Watch

A lot of horrific school shootings in the news lately got me to thinking about an interesting fact I read in the excellent book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini.

In it, he cites some interesting research on the issue of copycat murders/suicides which points out the predictable patterns that emerge when dealing with high profile cases of murder or suicide, particularily when the cases garner national media attention.

His example focuses mostly on the fact that car and airplane crashes increase significantly in the weeks following a high profile murder or suicide. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but it struck me as telling that within the 'predicted' period after some very high profile murder cases, CNN's front page told of a plane crash in Brazil a few days ago killing all 155 passengers on board.

So, now that I've painted this sufficiently morbid picture for you, my idea:

Simply put -- if at all possible, do not travel in the two weeks following a high profile murder, as the odds are higher that you will be involved in an accident due to factors you have no control over (that is, depressed and deranged people seeking to take their own life after being inspired by some recent news).

But what to do about the fact that you, Mr/Mrs Traveller, might not be totally up to date on the same 'high profile' cases that could potentially be impacting some sick people out there to take drastic measures. The news they read might not be the same you do. They might consider something 'high profile' that you do not (I wonder, for example, if the news about the Dawson College shooting a few weeks ago reached people in Brazil...). My proposed answer: sign up to a (hypothetical) service that aggregates news feeds from around the world looking for the cases that are most likely to have an impact (ie: high profile enough) and sends a 'travel warning' to its members.

Scare mongering, perhaps, but next time I fly, I'll be scanning the headlines for any recent murders or suicides of celebrities and taking out extra life insurance if there is a hit. I'm sure there are others like me, and someone should automate the way this information is collected.

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