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Bromberg, W. (1951). A Psychological Study of Murder. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 32:117-127.

(1951). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 32:117-127

A Psychological Study of Murder

Walter Bromberg, M.D.

Responsible members of society have been increasingly concerned with the steady stream of murders that are committed in the United States. Recently, officials of our heavily populated states have inquired whether psychiatrists through their specialized knowledge can aid in foretelling the possibility of violent aggression in a given individual. The question posed may be stated in these psychological terms: Are there demonstrable evidences of unconscious influences on ego function which may serve as a warning of impending acting-out of violent aggression?

Psycho-analytic psychiatry has within its subject matter and orientation possibilities of providing this insight. Yet society has neither stimulated nor made possible any large-scale study of murderers of sufficient intensity to shed light on the unconscious basis for the crime of murder. Society through its legal agencies utilizes the basic viewpoint that man's behaviour is to be judged solely on its observable phenomenology. Data concerning unconscious derivatives, ego defences and superego weaknesses are not considered valid material for judicial judgement or acceptable scientific evidence in the legal forum.

Still, legalistic procedure is beginning to be influenced by a perception of the practical importance of understanding motivation in criminal acts. For example, when in an assault case the forces motivating the criminal are seen to result from aggressive defences against overwhelming unconscious passive impulses, society's agents are equipped to treat the individual more intelligently and to estimate his future adjustment more accurately.

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