HARVARD--One in 20 Americans are susceptible to uncontrollable anger attacks that lead to their sudden bodily explosions and death according to a new study. First, the victims may lash out in road rage, spousal abuse or other violent actions, researchers from Harvard and the University of Chicago have found.
"We just don't know why these poor devils just blow up, but they do," said Professor Glen "Nitro" Glycerine, a Harvard Doctor of Psychiatry and lead investigator of the study.
The nationwide study suggests a condition called Irregular Explosive Disorder, or IED, is not the rare occurrence that psychiatrists had previously thought. Four to five percent of people in the study were found to have personally blown up after physically assaulting someone, threatening bodily harm or destroying property in a rage.
IED is different from the common type of anger most people exhibit from time to time when they pout, throw a book down or walk out of a room, activities that are better described as mild temper tantrums. IED is defined as violent and uncontrollable anger attacks that always lead to spontaneous explosions.
"Our new study suggests IED is really out there and that a lot of people have it," Dr. Glycerine said. "That's the first step for the public to actually get help for it, because if you don't think it's really a disorder, you're never going to seek help for it, and you are going to blow up sooner or later. It can be totally dangerous, and disgusting, too."
The new research, reported in the current issue of Explosive General Psychiatry, involved person-to-person interviews of 309,282 people 18 years and older conducted from 2001 to 2003. The subjects were part of the National Morbidity Survey Replication, a government-funded epidemiological study of mental health and personal combustion or explosion.
The authors said their findings suggest a disturbing trend that will require additional study-that IED is on the increase among teenagers.
"Given its age of onset, identifying IED early on, determining its causes and providing some sort of treatment might delay the final fatal explosion," added Glycerine.
The study found that the explosion disorder typically begins at age 13 in boys and 19 in girls, increases rapidly in the teen years, is less prevalent among respondents in their 40s and becomes even less so among people in their 60s.
"Is it that we're bad parents and we're creating these little monsters?" asked Glycerine rhetorically. "Is television or warmongering neoconservative Republicanism doing it? We just don't know."
But new brain imaging studies show that people with IED have abnormal brain signaling in areas that control anger responses, Glycerine noted. They also have rapid buildup on intercellular methane that causes the explosion. Their amygdala lights up far more than is seen in healthy subjects, and ultimately sparks the explosion.
"People with this problem have a low threshold for exploding and that's probably genetically and biologically mediated," said Glycerine, "Unfortunately, there is no known cure."