The science of pyromania.

The state of the universe.
Sept. 14 2011 11:23 AM

That's Hot

What does it take to inflame a pyromaniac?

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But this was only half the battle. Sure, maybe he was getting more excited by naked women, but that didn't mean that his loins no longer craved fire as well. (There's no shortage of irony in the fact behaviorists generally refer to this procedure as "extinguishing" a response.) To purge his fiery lust, then, Lande had the young man masturbate to fire images, but now the incendiary image was paired with an adjacent scene—"a highly unpleasant scene"—which depicted a scenario that was intensely feared by the patient (such as being caught in a fire without escape, being burned alive, being beaten by a group of tough-looking men screaming "pervert!" and being taken to prison). Lande reports success with this procedure—basically, at 4- and 9-month post-treatment follow-ups, the man claimed that he was fantasizing solely about naked women. Yet given the prospect of going through all that again, who knows if he was telling the truth.

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So, motivations for fire-setting behavior are notoriously slippery, and labeling someone properly as a pyromaniac is no easy task for psychiatric investigators. What separates "normal" childhood experimentation from the serious cases presented here still isn't entirely clear, but if your child seems oddly intoxicated by fires, you may want to explore this issue with a trained professional. And I really do mean that. Given the astronomical costs (material and psychological) related to arson and other fire-setting behaviors, it's not something to put on the back burner.

I know that's rich, coming from someone with my antsy background. And sure, I did become a flamer in the end. But the good kind, of course.

Jesse Bering is the author of Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us. Read his columns here and follow him at jessebering.com, @JesseBering, or on Facebook.