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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Enuresis and Setting Fires

Q. I have heard that there is a high correlation between fire setting and enuresis in children and adolescents. Is this true and could you please direct me to any additional resources about fire setting personality profiles and related behaviors?

A. It's true that some studies have shown a correlation between fire-setting and enuresis (bed-wetting). For example, Repo et al (Acta Psychiatr Scand 1997 Apr;95(4):318-323) investigated psychiatric and demographic variables and lifetime criminality among arsonists referred for a pre-trial psychiatric assessment. The medical and criminal records of 282 arsonists were studied in order to compare first-time and repeat offenders with regard to diagnostic, demographic and biological variables. Alcohol dependence and antisocial personality disorder were common among recidivist offenders. Recidivist offenders also commonly had a history of long-lasting enuresis during their childhood.

On the other hand, Showers & Pickrell (Hosp Community Psychiatry 1987 May;38(5):495-501) studied the characteristics of 186 fire setters and 165 age- and sex-matched controls at two state psychiatric hospitals for children, six community mental health centers, and a children's medical hospital. They failed to corroborate results of other studies that have suggested correlations between firesetting and enuresis, sexual conflicts, low intelligence, large family size, economic deprivation, adoption, and a diagnosis of psychosis.

However, these investigators did find that fire setters tend to have conduct problems, such as disobedience and aggressiveness, and that fire setters experienced significantly more emotional neglect and physical abuse in early life. In short--I think the jury is still out on the correlation between fire setting and enuresis, and the results may depend on which specific population is studied.

November 2001

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