Society and courts of law often find themselves struggling to understand what causes someone to commit a violent act. Mental illness is often cited as the motive for such crimes. However, Dr. Tahir Rahman, an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Missouri’s School of Medicine, has concluded that in some cases, violent crimes are not the result of mental illness but rather an “extreme overvalued belief,” a term Dr. Rahman uses to classify the cause of criminally violent behavior when psychosis can be ruled out.
Dr. Rahman conducted a case study on Andres Breivik, a Norwegian terrorist who claimed to be a “savior of Christianity” after detonating a car bomb that killed 77 people in 2011. A psychiatric team concluded that Breivik was not psychotic and instead diagnosed him with personality disorder. Dr. Rahman suggests, however, that Breivik’s criminal acts were a result of his extreme overvalued belief. An extreme overvalued belief is “a belief that is shared by others and often relished, amplified and defended by the accused.” This intense emotional commitment to a particular belief is what causes the accused to commit a violent act. Dr. Rahman hopes that his study can help forensic psychiatrists properly identify the motive for a crime in courts of law when a defendant’s sanity is in question. Although more research must be done to fully understand the concept of extreme overvalued beliefs, Dr. Rahman also hopes that future research will enable mental health professionals to identify early signs of such extreme beliefs and intervene before violent behavior occurs.