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Play Deprived Life - Devastating Result

A Tortured Soul Explodes

On a suffocating August morning at the University of Texas, Austin, Charles Whitman, a seemingly normal, 25 year old engineering student, and former marine sharpshooter,  wheeled a trunk onto the elevator of the tower overlooking campus.

On the surface he was a clean-cut, ambitious young man. No one really had a grasp of the complexities of his life nor - as would later be found in his diaries - took seriously his attempts to ward off the homicidal urges that he felt were going to explode. The trunk hid an arsenal of guns and ammunition. 

Over a frightening three hour period he shot down from the tower killing 17 and wounding 41 university students and staff. It was later learned that before the tower, he had separately murdered his wife and mother.
Time Magazine cover story on Charles Whitman

This brilliant, tortured soul—a man once described as a “model citizen”, had committed what in 1966 was the largest mass murder in U.S. history. 

Why would a seemingly normal person—a former altar boy; the youngest American boy to become an Eagle Scout; a life with no criminal record who had never shown a tendency for violence—go berserk?

A Detailed Investigation

Stuart Brown statement on Whitman caseTexas Governor John Connally took personal interest in solving this mystery.  He assembled an expert international team to search for causes from Whitman's life. Stuart Brown MD, a psychiatrist at Baylor College of Medicine at the time – later to be founder of the National Institute for Play -  compiled the behavioral data for the team. Each team member was directed to collect as much data as possible and to identify the factors they considered key causes.  Since each member would view the data from his field of expertise - toxicology, neurology, neuropathology, graphology, sociology, psychology, psychiatry, law enforcement - a consensus conclusion seemed unlikely. 

Most of the data must remain confidential, but, the core facts revealed a tragic life and a sobering lesson. For some time before his tower rampage, Whitman had been under extreme, unrelenting, stress.  After many unsuccessful efforts to resolve the stress, he ultimately succumbed to a sense of powerlessness; he felt no option was left other than the homicidal-suicidal acts he carried out. Amazingly he saw no possibilities open to him for relief.

A Life Without Play

Whitman had been raised in a tyrannical, abusive household.  From birth through age 18, Whitman’s natural playfulness had been systematically and dramatically suppressed by an overbearing father.

A lifelong lack of play deprived him of opportunities to view life with optimism, test alternatives, or learn the social skills that, as part of spontaneous play, prepare individuals to cope with life stress. The committee concluded that lack of play was a key factor in Whitman's homicidal actions – if he had experienced regular moments of spontaneous play during his life, they believed he would have developed the skill, flexibility, and strength to cope with the stressful situations without violence.

Dr. Brown’s subsequent research of other violent individuals concludes that play can act as a powerful deterrent, even an antidote to prevent violence. Play is a powerful catalyst for positive socialization.



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