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(Originally posted on Psychology.SE, it has been suggested that I post here instead)

The media frequently claims that mass shooters are or were bullied as children. Does the scientific evidence back up this claim? Evidence that is reported in articles about this issue in major media outlets seems inconsistent. Scientific litterature also seems inconclusive.

Articles claiming there is a link

Huffington Post: Mass Murders in Schools and Bullying: What We Can Do to Help Stop the Carnage

CNN: Rejection, bullying are risk factors among shooters

The autogenic (self-generated) massacre

Skytherapist: Understanding Mass Violence: Could Bullying Play a Role?

Inquirer: Many campus shootings have similarities. Studying them might prevent more tragedy, researchers say (limited to campus shootings)

Articles claiming no link

Statistics on Bullying and School Shootings (limited to school shootings rather than general mass shootings)

Newsweek: How we talk about bullying after school shootings can be dangerous (again, limited to school shootings)

Vox: Think school shooters are usually bullied and unpopular? You're wrong

Parenting Pod: What Causes School Shootings and How to Stop Them

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  • Good question. I remember this was distinctly a thing in the media right after Columbine, which was in 1999. – Robert Columbia Jun 21 '20 at 11:51
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    What, exactly, is the claim here? 1) Who is not bullied at school? I am sure mass shooters have also been playing computer games, watched TV, and drank soda at some point of their life. 2) Quoting the CNN article, "in the United States, mass killers tend to be white males who perpetrate these acts in relatively well-to-do areas..." -- those are definitely not the group getting the shortest end of the stick when it comes to bullying. So, please, clarify what the exact claim is and how you are skeptical about it. – DevSolar Jun 22 '20 at 7:37
  • @DevSolar I don’t get it. My question is explicit enough I don’t see what I have to clarify here. Obviously when I say "bullying" that goes beyond the occasional mean comment. – user3419556 Jun 22 '20 at 16:39
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    @DevSolar You seem to have a specific idea of what bullying is (and that appears conflated with so called "systemic racism"). If you did have an issue with this question, it should be "What is 'bullying' here?" Maybe psych disciplines have a specific definition, since it is often noted in patient history for any kind of "anti-socialism". I think those are things a good answer should address. – fredsbend Jun 22 '20 at 19:57
  • @fredsbend Nothing near as "systematic". I found the question to be very unspecific. If going from the title only, "do they tend to have been bullied as a kid", I could conceivably wave my hand at some statistic showing that over X% of kids have been bullied at some point and answer "yes, probably". But I doubt that is what the OP is asking about, which is why I asked to narrow down the Q. – DevSolar Jun 22 '20 at 20:54
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I can't imagine any way to answer this besides going case by case. To avoid hundreds of examples, let's focus on the top three shooters. I am guessing you are asking about school shooters and not Mandalay bay etc...

Columbine shooters

According to early accounts of the shooting, they were very unpopular students and targets of bullying. While sources do support accounts of bullying specifically directed toward Harris and Klebold,[27][28][29] accounts of them being outcasts have been reported to be false, since both of them had a close knit group of friends.[30][31]

Vtech

Early reports indicated Cho was bullied for speech difficulties in middle school, but the Virginia Tech Review Panel was unable to confirm this, or other reports that he was ostracized and mercilessly bullied for class-, height-, and race-related reasons in high school, causing some anti-bullying advocates to feel that the Review Panel was engaging in an authority-absolving whitewash.[88][89]

Incel shooter

He fled two high schools after begging his parents, in tears, to rescue him from what he described as a bullying environment. When he was a sophomore, a school administrator said, he suffered a panic attack — standing immobilized in the hallway — until a teacher went outside to ask his mother, waiting in a car, to come get him. He apparently never returned to the school.

So in all 3 cases we have reports of bullying, but no way to verify them.

This is not a question that can be answered in a categorical way. We would only ever have anecdotal evidence.

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  • I am not asking just about school or campus shooting. It just so happens that most of the sources I’ve found are related to school shootings because bullying is related to school. However I didn’t find any systematic study which surprises me. Is it because mass shootings are too rare to be studied? Is it because the evidence is too hard to get? – user3419556 Jun 22 '20 at 16:48
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    By its nature this cant be answered with government statistics, there are probably enough shootings but you can only find secondhand accounts of bullying, which are colored by the ulterior motives of the people talking. It's like doing a study on trump's makeup or whatever. – user56293 Jun 22 '20 at 19:26
  • Welcome to the site. When you have a chance, please take the tour and see the help center. – fredsbend Jun 22 '20 at 19:54
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    Sadly, "we would only ever have anecdotal evidence" is not quite true. There have been quite a number of shooters, school and otherwise, that when compiled look more like data, rather than anecdotes. Plus there's the studies of psychology and "anti-social" behavior that is data driven science. The connection between "bullying" and say murder, arson, or other anti-social behaviors aimed to "get even" is not really surprising, and I'm sure is well supported in that science. – fredsbend Jun 22 '20 at 21:00
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    But the data are not gathered in a statistical way, i.e., there is no standardized way to collect and define bullying data besides looking for snippets in news and asking people for their accounts. – user56293 Jun 22 '20 at 21:02

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