Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Philosophy



First Advisor

Lester Carr


A discriminant analysis, analysis of maximum separation, and analysis of percentage of contribution of sixty-four case referred firesetters and sixty-four equated, case referred nonfiresetters to Mental Hygiene Services and Child Welfare Services, Department of Social Welfare, State of Rhode Island, partially confirmed the hypothesis that firesetters can be differentiated from nonfiresetters by the psychological characteristics of impulsiveness, hyperactivity, enuresis, hostility, theft, destructiveness, hyperkinesis, and abnormal sexual practices at different chronological, developmental stages of growth. Only a combination, disregarding individual analysis, of age groups five through seven, eight through eleven, and twelve through sixteen in toto, yielded significant (p < .05) results. This suggested that firesetters and nonfiresetters develop, both physically and emotionally, in accord with Freudian psychosexual, developmental stages. The hypothesis that firesetters remain fixated on an oral psychosexual level of development was therefore rejected as was the suggestion that they are fixated on a more advanced phallic-urethral psychosexual level.

The behavioral characteristic, impulsiveness, was found to be the only symptom in the total group which contributed heavily (68 percent) to the maximum separation of firesetters and nonfiresetters; the other symptoms contributed less than 10 percent individually. The categorical question, “what is a firesetter?” was concluded to be a meaningless query in regards to the clinical application of differentiating firesetters and nonfiresetters and formulating viable theoretical hypotheses concerning the psychodynamic interpretation of the act of firesetting. Psychodynamic postulations concerning the act of firesetting remain on a idiographic level because of methodological problems, of which some are inherent, in research for “applied” fields. The literature was critically reviewed in order to provide an explanation for previous contradictory findings and to propose guidelines for future research in this area.



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