Stress from noise: Can it trigger irrational behavior?

By KBJR News 1

June 2, 2014 Updated Jun 3, 2014 at 2:43 AM CST

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - Those familiar with the case surrounding Ryan Scharber, the former Babbitt fire chief who pleaded guilty to setting fires, might have been surprised to learn part of his reasoning for setting the fires.

In court documents and an interview with ABC's 20/20, Scharber claimed that setting the fires was a way to relieve stress from the constant crying of his colicky baby.

"It was just when I was home and around the stress that caused me to go out and start the fires," Scharber said in the 20/20 interview, "When I was at work I didn't have that."

But can noise actually cause someone so much stress that they behave irrationally?

Dr. ElizaBeth Carver, a licensed psychologist at Amberwing, says sometimes it can.

"We all have different capacities for stress and some people have a lower threshold for stress than others," Dr. Carver said.

Dr. Carver hasn't treated Scharber, but says that stress that isn't dealt with can evolve into a big problem.

"I think any amount of stress, a continued stress, whether it be a baby crying or a loud noise, if you aren't taking care of yourself and you're not coping well, can cause us to make really poor decisions," she said.

Dr. Carver says just like people have different thresholds for stress, they also have different thresholds for noise. While some people can handle loud noises, for others it's too much.

Regardless, Carver says it's important to get help when needed.

"Having it [caring for your child] be a team effort of switching off when you need to, calling somebody else in and not feeling bad about it and having them take over for that brief period of time...can be extremely important," she said.

In addition to being sentenced to five years in Federal prison, Scharber has also been ordered to pay more than $27,000 in restitution to the DNR, the US Forestry Service and the City of Babbitt.