Science Today: Burglars say nervous tension is part of the game


LONDON -- Burglars suffer nervous tension as an occupational hazard and that explains some of the capricious things they do to the homes of their victims.

The tension and excitement involved in the act of breaking into a strange building is almost as much a lure to the burglar as the money or objects of value he hopes to find, according to Dermot Walsh, writing in the sociological magazine, New Society.


Walsh conducted research, in which burglars assisted, for his survey. It stressed there were reasons for burglary other than gain but did not offer much consolation to honest citizens opening the doors to find their homes desecrated _ sometimes unspeakably fouled.

Burglary is not simply about stealing goods and money, Walsh said.

'Research shows that it is more complicated, more a matter of psychology... Burglars burgle, it seems, partly because of the tension and excitement it generates in them. Fear is the name of their game.'


Walsh said he questioned 27 convicted burglars in prison and most answered as though it was obvious and very normal that a burglar should be frightened when working.

'One stressed that, for him, the greatest tension was in going to the house, knowing that he was going to commit himself to burglary, and then coming away with the stolen property,' Walsh said. 'Being inside the house was relatively easy. But even there the adrenalin is boiling.'

One reason for this stress is that noise of any kind may spell trouble.

So the invader listens hard but the strain of this concentration and being ready to run the moment a sound is heard causes tension, one ex-burglar said. Others pointed out that the task involves effort. Climbing, manhandling furniture, using a jimmy to wrench open a steel-framed window _ all these increase the heart beat, and the physical effort sharpens still more the mental concentration and fear.

To overcome this, Walsh said, many burglars tend to operate half-drunk. This blunts anxiety and gives them greater confidence. It also helps explain why so many burglars urinate and defecate in homes they are robbing. Walsh's sources said it was a combination of drink, fear and physical exercise and a reluctance to risk being trapped in a small room such as a toilet.


Walsh said a study of burglaries in one area of Britain showed that in 73 percent of the cases the thief got about $100 or less. This meant only 27 percent escaped with reasonable rewards. He said it seems burglars are not usually as well informed as they might be about what they might expect to find, even though there are long jail terms for persistent offenders.

In an experiment, Walsh asked student volunteers to commit a 'burglary' which involved climbing through a window and dropping down inside a room. Half of the students entered a lighted room, half a darkened one. The darkened room was suddenly illuminated by a flash of light. Half of all the students found themselves in a personal confrontation.

Even though there was no risk, Walsh said, every student taking part had a rapid heart beat. Some of them in their haste overturned furniture in the experimental room which 'points to the likelihood that much of the disarray in victim's houses occurs for this reason rather than destructive maliciousness.' |adv pms fri oct 10

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