Hi everybody, I am Alex Roberts. This may be hard to believe, but it has been four months and two days since the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School found themselves in the middle of a nightmare. February 14, 2018 the students in Parkland, Florida found themselves in a situation that everybody hopes a loved one will never have to face. 17 students lost their lives that day. None of those children deserved to be in that situation. Four months and two days. It isn’t a very long time. A couple different people have found their names in the media spotlight ever since that horrible day in February. As much as I don’t like what he stands for David Hogg is one of those names. It isn’t really fair to try to judge him as a person since I have never met the kid. For all I know before that day in February David Hogg’s views may have been different or not as passionate against gun rights. Nicholas Cruz is another name that has had more than its share of time in the media spotlight. There is another name that has been in the media spotlight a lot. That name is Scot Peterson.
There are many people who have called him a coward. Security footage shows Peterson ducking between two pillars outside the building ducking gunfire. Because this man chose self preservation over running into the school building and trying to be a hero, the father of one of those students who lost their lives is trying to sue Scot Peterson. 18 year old Meadow Pollack will never know how it feels to wear a cap and gown at the end someone’s senior year in High School. She will never know what it feels like to have her name called and walk across the stage to receive her diploma. It is her father Andrew Pollack who is trying to sue the former school resource officer.
I guess it is pretty easy for the rest of America to sit back and judge the actions of Scot Peterson as cowardly after the fact. Any one of us can sit in front of our computer or tv and puff out our chest while we proudly say that we would have done something. Being the hypothetical hero is always easy, because we have nothing to lose in the situation after it is done and over. There are some of us who might not puff out our chest and say that we would have done something. Instead those people sit back and cast judgment and name call. They are the ones who shame Scot Peterson with the title of coward. The fact is none of us were there so we don’t know what we would have done. He was there. He chose self preservation. Let’s turn back the clock some. Let us play the hypothetical games that people all over America love to play.
If Scot Peterson had not chosen self preservation and entered the school building on February 14, 2018 would it have made any difference. According to an a psychology article it is never really easy for any of us to do an act of evil. Let’s be honest. Although the reason behind doing so may not always be an evil or selfish reason the act of taking someone else’s life is one of the most evil things that any human could do. The human brain is not something that is naturally wired to be able to perform acts of evil that harm others. The brain is wired in a way that allows most of us to feel things like compassion, guilt, empathetic pain that allows the person inflicting harm to feel the harm that they have done almost as much as their victims feel it.
In 2015 a study was published in the psychology journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience brought people closer to understanding what happens in the brain of a killer. Ordinary people can not be made to think as savagely and without compassion as people like Nikolas Cruz do. However, we can all what it would be like to commit murder when it is completely legal such as times of war. That is exactly what it would have been if Scot Peterson had entered the building where Nikolas Cruz was and been able to overcome all of the wiring that makes him human enough to kill Nikolas Cruz. It was psychologist Pascal Molenberghs of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia who conducted the study. For the purpose of his research he took 48 candidates and asked them to allow functional magnetic resonance imaging of their brains to be done while they watched three different videos.
The three different videos consisted of a soldier killing an enemy soldier, a soldier killing a civilian, and a soldier killing no one. Just like a lot of the games that children play today these videos were all shown from the perspective of the shooter. As each video ended the subjects of this test were asked who did they shoot? In order to assure that each subject knew what he or she were doing they were required to answer the question by push one of three buttons on a keypad. The buttons represented soldier, civilian, and no one. They also had to rate how guilty they felt in each scenario on a scale between 1 and 7.
When conducting his study Molenberghs focused first on an area of our brain that is called the orbitofrontal cortex. The activity that occurred in this part of the brain was very significant to his study because it is this area of the brain that is connected to our moral sensitivity, our moral judgments, and how we behave. Another section of the brain that was important to his study was the temporoparietal junction. This is the part of the brain that allows us to act deliberately and take ownership and responsibility for our actions. In the real world, in the heat of the moment, that doesn’t make a difference. Dead is dead no matter if the gun was fired intentionally or accidentally went off. It does make a difference in how taking someone’s life affects the person responsible for killing them.
In the study the 48 subjects who were part of the experiment experienced more activity in their orbitofrontal cortex and temporoparietal junction when they imagined shooting a civilian than they did when they imagined it was a soldier that they shot. In effect their brain was making them feel guilty while the other part of their brain was telling them that they should feel guilty. The OFC and TPJ are not the only parts of the brain that are involved in our moral processing. Another region that is known as the fusiform gyrus showed more activity when the 48 test subjects imagined themselves shooting civilians. It is the fusiform gyrus portion of our brain that allows us to analyze the faces of people. The higher amount of fusiform gyrus showed Pascal Molenberghs that his test subjects were imagining the expressions upon the faces of their imaginary victims. By imagining their expressions they were humanizing the victims. It is believed that this part of the mind may not react as strongly in the minds of mass shooters like Nikolas Cruz.
The part of the brain that may be more active in people like Nikolas Cruz may be the area that is known as the lingual gyrus. This is the region of the brain that is much more involved in the dispassionate business of spatial reasoning. That is exactly what people like Nikolas Cruz need when going about killing a large number of people indiscriminately. As long as they can justify it in their own thoughts this area of the mind is what allows killers to take the lives of others without hesitation or remorse. There is a huge difference between ordinary people like Scot Peterson and people like Nikolas Cruz when it comes to how our emotions work. But whether you are Mr. Rogers or Freddy Krueger one thing for certain is that when it comes to killing someone our moral roots as well as our neural roots are deeply involved.
With this knowledge of how the human brain works in most people there is a very real chance that by not going into the building that day when Nikolas Cruz killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Scot Peterson may have saved more lives. If he had gone into that building and froze it may have slowed others down from being able to get outside of the building. In the reality of the situation the school resource officer went to the building. He may have gone there thinking that he could do what needed to be done. When he could not overcome the wiring of the normal person’s brain that would allow him to do what was necessary he ducked between the pillars trying to keep himself safe. There is a very real chance that instead of being the coward that a large number of Americans need him to be, Scot Peterson was just another ordinary person caught in the middle of a messed up situation.