Malcolm Gladwell: Why mass shootings, like Orlando's club attack, keep happening

Threshold theory trap: Malcom Gladwell
Threshold theory trap: Malcom Gladwell

Americans searching for a societal reason for the alarming national trend of mass shootings, such as Sunday's deadly gay nightclub attack in Orlando, should look to the past, said Malcolm Gladwell, the renowned author whose books explore the power of connections.

"These shootings feed on each other. And each time someone commits an act, an atrocity like this, it makes it easier for the next person to do it," Gladwell told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Tuesday.

"This is kind of a well-known theory in psychology, which is the threshold theory," he explained. "[It] says each of us have a different threshold for doing something unusual or heinous. The more these events happen, the lower the threshold gets."

American-born, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, the Orlando gunman who by all accounts so far was a self-radicalized Islamic extremist, shares traits with many of the past school shooters, said Gladwell, author of best-sellers including "The Tipping Point" and "Outliers," and a staff writer for The New Yorker.

"It's the same notion that troubled, disaffected young men are drawn into the fantasy element kinds of movements," Gladwell said, arguing the mainstream media shoulders an unfair portion of the blame for propagating and glorifying violence.

"There are these entire worlds that suck in young people and feed their fantasies that have nothing to do with the mainstream media," he said. "It's not media coverage of ISIS that [Mateen], I'm sure, was inspired by. It's stuff ISIS itself put up online."

If authorities want to break "the terrible cycle," they need to disrupt the radical ideology at the source by providing a more compelling counter message, Gladwell said.