Do Common Colds and School Shootings Have Something in Common?

As outlandish as the question may be, there seems to be an uncanny frequency to school shootings. In particular, outbursts of violence always seem to occur at an accelerated pace after an initial trigger. Could it be that the contagious nature of afflictions such as the Common Cold also characterize the affliction of violence that our country current seems to find cyclical? Are school shootings contagious? Is the increase in frequency after a single event contributed to a susceptible component of the psyche of our society, or are they merely broadcasted by news stations eager to captivate a scared audience? A recent study done by PLOS ONE has taken to examining this disturbing phenomena.


The study found that 20% or 30% of school shootings within a period of 13 days occured due to the spread of a “contagion.” Furthermore, the study also took into account the stories that were broadcasted at a national level. Events where casualties exceeded 4 were more likely to bypass local channels and by displayed on national news for the American audience to digest. Just as humans tend to act as conduits in order to spread infectious diseases such as the Common Cold, so too does the media act as a conduit to spread infectious content. However, I don’t really find this information to be holistically satisfactory.

The findings of the study were clearly based upon an observational mode of accumulating data. Creating an experimental environment vast enough to encompass a societal phenomena would be pretty difficult. For this reason, scientists had to rely upon retrieving data from various sets and compiling them into a singular chart which was in turn able to point out various correlations between school shootings and the frequency at which they occured once they were broadcasted to society at large.


Overall, the study conducted by PLOS did its best to take into account a variety of external factors that could lead to the altering of the results received from years of observation and recording. One such external variable was the access to state mental-health facilities. There seemed to be a positive association between the number of individuals killed in an attack, and the frequency of attacker-suicide. Perhaps this suggests a course to diving deeper into the issue, and seeing if the number and accessibility of mental-health institutions impacts the overall frequency of school shootings in general? One shortcoming of the study–admitted by PLOS–was the inability to parse through the data and distinguish any sort of biases offered by the media institutions that reported on the events. In order to counter this, I believe that the government should begin the funding of an extensive report that takes into account an number of external factors , as well as accessory factors. At a minimum, this report should include background information as to the pretense of the crime, and the current state of mental healthcare in the localized community in which the event took place.

3 thoughts on “Do Common Colds and School Shootings Have Something in Common?

  1. Rory McGowan Post author


    The comparison between school shootings and an affliction such as the common cold was made to point out the relatively similar contagion mechanism that, according to the study, characterizes both. It is important to note that the similarity between the two rests in the idea that one body has the opportunity to transmit a contagion through a matrix of interaction. In the case of the common cold, that matrix of interaction is social and biological. On the other hand, the matrix of interaction for the transmission of the school shooting contagion is purely social and cognitive. An infected human and an incited media outlet both act as agents of transmission. The example you gave is essentially what the framers of this PLOS study were trying to point out. Anyways, thanks for commenting.

  2. Nicolette Lynn Brown

    I don’t really understand how this has to do with the common cold, but it would make more sense that it correlates with mental illness. Maybe it’s just me not understanding it but I do understand how the media can act as a contagion. Just a few weeks ago Philly schools were targeted for a shooting following the Oregon community college shooting. The Oregon shooting made national headlines the days after, and then threats were posted for Philly colleges. I do believe events like this cause more events to arise, as it grabs the attention of more people with the same mindset. And I truly believe mental illness needs to become a top priority in the U.S. to help stop further shootings and end the contagion.

  3. Erik Samuel Ridley

    Wow. These were two things I never in a million years thought would have been related. I love how the study realizes its own shortcomings and need for more investigation, but this would be fascinating to be developed further, possibly into other illnesses or feelings that cause people to pull the trigger.

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