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Arson: Definition, Motivation & Types

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  • 0:00 What Is Arson?
  • 0:31 Vandalism, Excitement,…
  • 1:55 Crime, Profit, & Extremism
  • 3:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

'Burning Down the House': A famous song and also a form of arson. This lesson defines arson and then explores the major types and motivations behind arson.

What Is Arson?

We've all accidentally burned our house down before. Wait, no, that's probably never happened. But houses have been burned down and definitely not accidentally. Rather, it occurred as a result of arson, which is the malicious or intentional destruction of property (such as homes, land, etc.) with fire.

There are many different types of arson and motivations behind them. This lesson goes over six core motivations.

Vandalism, Excitement, & Revenge

One type of arson is motivated by pure vandalism. Vandalism refers to malicious or mischievous damage to, or destruction of, property. For instance, graffiti is often seen as vandalism, such as scratching a bus's window with a sharp object. In this case, it's the mischievous destruction of property through fire as opposed to a spray can.

Another type of arson is motivated by excitement. An example of where a sense of excitement may occur alongside arson is pyromania. Pyromania refers to an impulse control disorder where a person has an urge to start fires. Pyromaniacs experience pleasure, as well a sense of relief, after setting property on fire. However, it's important to note that pyromaniacs don't set fires for monetary gain, fraud, or to conceal criminal activity.

People who commit arson as a result of excitement often target vacant homes and trash or dumpsters. Not only may people commit arson for the thrill of the fire itself, but they may also commit it for the thrill of getting attention and recognition for the fire.

A further type of arson is motivated by revenge. In other words, the person has a gripe. The gripe could be real, or it could be completely in their head. There's no limit to the targets such arsonists establish. They may burn someone's home, business, cars, government property, or even public lands in order to get a sense of retribution or 'justice' for whatever it is that bothers them.

Crime, Profit, & Extremism

While arson is a crime itself, sometimes the arson is committed actually to conceal a crime. Thus, crime concealment is another type of motivation for arson. Some obvious things come to mind. Sometimes a criminal will set a fire to a home to cover up a murder scene and to try and destroy DNA evidence. Other times they'll set fire to get rid of any incriminating evidence of a burglary.

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