Graveyard Shift

12 Strange Things You Didn't Know About Pyromania 

Jacob Shelton
Updated February 14, 2020 7.3k views 12 items

Everyone goes through a stage of pyromania (right?). Most of us have a few tender years during which we toys or notebook paper, then we get bored and move to something else. But a true fire-starter is only getting started in youth.

Whether you’re a secret pyromaniac or simply interested in what leads someone to set 18 fires in 10 days, there’s something to learn from this collection of things you didn’t know about pyromania. 

Freud Believed Pyromania Was A Primitive Regression
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Photo: Max Halberstadt/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Sigmund Freud connected fire to the origins of human progress and the myth of Prometheus taking fire from the gods and giving it to humankind. Freud noted the phallic nature of tongues of flames and suggested early men put out fires by peeing on them, which, according to him, makes a person's interaction with fire inherently sexual or competitive.

Freud also hypothesized the urge to set fires represents a regression to a primitive desire to demonstrate power over nature. Adolescents setting fires may be a case of youth trying to gain superiority over adults. 

Adolescent Pyromania Can Lead To Serial Murder
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Photo: Universal Pictures

Researchers have suggested pyromania is a gateway crime, theorizing that children and adolescents who set things on fire graduate to more serious acts as adults.

Fire-setting is a component in the MacDonald triad, a set of three behaviors indicating whether or not a child is prone to taking a life. The other behaviors in the triangle are cruelty to animals and persistent bed-wetting. 

True Pyromania Is Incredibly Rare
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Photo: Jan Lievens/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

As per a study of 600 arsonists conducted by Nina Lindberg, a psychiatrist in Finland, 68% of arsonists studied set things on fire when they were drunk. Only 12 of the 600 people studied fit the DSM-IV criteria for pyromania, and of those 12, nine admitted to only setting fires when drunk.

Taking alcohol out of the equation, Lindberg found that less than 2% of people fit the bill for pyromania.

The Desire To Fire-Start May Arise From Frontal Lobe Issues
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Photo: Nevit Dilmen/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA 3.0

Some researchers believe pyromania is a condition affecting the frontal lobe of the brain rather than a true obsession with fire. In 2006, psychiatrist Jon Grant examined the brain of a patient who exhibited pyromaniac behaviors with single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging and found a region in the left inferior frontal portion with low blood flow.

After three weeks of daily behavioral therapy and a 12-month regimen of topiramate, an anticonvulsant used to treat seizures, the patient reported a decrease in the urge to set fires.