Last week I began to broadly discuss serial killers and what sets them apart from the rest of society. This week I will be focusing on the nature aspect, and what goes on inside the mind of a serial killer.
When we look inside the brain of a serial killer, it becomes apparent that there are substantial differences from those who are deemed ‘normal’. (Normal being a very general and undescriptive term, I refer to it as what our western society considers normal) Neuroscientist Jim Fallon, among many others, concluded that serial killers have lower levels of activity in the original cortex, meaning “there’s less normal suppression of behaviors, including rage, violence, eating, sex, and drinking.” (Lizette Borreli) Another theory comes from Dr. Helen Morrison, stating that chromosome abnormalities, usually becoming active around puberty, play a large role as well. She believes that this abnormality causes one to never develop a sense of attachment to the world, empathy for others or a concrete foundation of belonging in this world. “I don’t believe in man, God, or the Devil. I hate the whole damned human race, including myself.” (Gary Ridgway) Now, many serial killers also suffer from some degree with psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia or anti-social personality disorder, which is most commonly associated with serial killers. As discussed in the previous blog, serial killers are often considered psychopaths as well, and by definition, it’s fitting but “psychopathy is not a clinical diagnosis, but it is considered a developmental disorder by neuroscientists.” (Jack Pemment MA, MS) (It’s important to remember that not all psychopaths are serial killersareare)
While it is true that serial killers lack empathy, connection to their world and others, and the morals most of us share, they do seem to have a higher rate of other personality traits. These include charm, manipulation, and the ability to install a sense false trust in their victims. These traits have even been referred to as ‘psychopathic traits.” (Jack Pemment MA, MS) But while these traits are usually found in serial killers, they are not exclusive to them, but rather shared by society to some degree. The difference comes from the degree of strength these characteristics have within a person, serial killers displaying much higher abilities to use and display them. While these traits are largely found in many killers, the most common are still found to be the lack of overall empathy towards other humans. A possible cause for this could be a shrunken amygdala, a part of the brain used in controlling emotion. “I am sorry for only two things. These two things are I am sorry that I have mistreated some few animals in my lifetime and I am sorry that I am unable to murder the whole damned human race.” (Carl Panzram) It is also clear that many of these individuals share a certain thrill or feeling of excitement during their heinous crimes. Whether it’s the feeling of power and control murder gives them, from the adrenaline coursing through their body, or various other reasons, it’s apparent that this act is enjoyable to them. “I like killing people because it is so much fun. It is more fun than killing wild game in the forest, because man is the most dangerous animal of them all.” (Zodiac Killer) The reasons behind the pleasure are more difficult to test on a biological scale though, as it would be unethical to hook a serial killer up to a brain scanner, ask him to murder someone, then record the results. One could conclude though that the pleasure regions of the brain would be more active.
So are serial killers caused solely by nature? No, and while genetic factors, mental illness, and abnormal brain development do play into the makings of a serial killer, it can not be concluded that nature alone is to blame. Much of the abnormalities found in the brain are often caused by early life trauma, which will be discussed next week under the nurture section. What one can conclude from this, is that many, if not all serial killers, do have certain differences within the structure of the brain, which does cause a shift in one’s behaviors from the norm. “It wasn’t as dark and scary as it sounds. I had a lot of fun…killing somebody’s a funny experience.” (Albert DeSalvo)