Aim: To review the literature on research and theoretical concepts related to the psychological functioning of firesetters and the criminological aspects of arson (deliberate firesetting).

Methodology: A thorough analysis of the English and Polish literature on the psychological, criminological and psychiatric determinants of criminal arson

Results: Arson is a crime causing threat to public order and resulting in injuries, death or property damage for individuals. It is easy to start a fire, because it does not require special skills or help from other people; it is also relatively easy for perpetrators to remain anonymous. According to the literature on the subject, the main motives for committing arson include revenge, excitement, vandalism, crime-concealment, profit and political extremism (terrorism). The article provides an overview of the latest concepts explaining the causal background of criminal arson, including the FBI classification, the Canter and Fritzon typology, Fritzon’s et al. analysis of firesetting as an “action system”, Jackson’s functional analysis of arson and Multi-Trajectory Theory of Adult Firesetting (M-TTAF). The population of deliberate firesetters is not a homogenous group. However, some conclusions on the characteristics of this group can be drawn. “The typical fire-raiser” is likely to be a young, single male, usually of low social and professional status, with a police record, struggling with psychological or psychiatric problems, whose sources can be traced back to a dysfunctional family environment.

Conclusions: The literature on the psychological conditions of firesetting is still relatively scarce. Achieving a clear understanding is difficult for several reasons. First of all, there is no consensus among social scientists on the terminology used to describe criminal arson. Some research projects include a relatively small group of firesetters. The profile of offenders is often partial in the sense that it focuses only on the selected aspect of the phenomenon. Even if we assume that the current state of knowledge on the psychosocial causes of arson is not satisfactory, the collected data should be considered when designing prevention and treatment programmes. In particular, psychological correlates and criminological mechanisms underlying firesetting, along with the internal diversity of the population of offenders, should be taken into account.

Keywords: arson, psychology, motivation, offender

Type of article: review article