The Makings Of a Serial Killer – Nature

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)


4 thoughts on “The Makings Of a Serial Killer – Nature

  1. Great post, Rachel! There is not a satisfactory answer to the question of whether psychopathy is a product of Mother Nature or a feature of upbringing. But it is good to touch on each assumed causes. The relationship between self-reported traumatic childhood experiences, cortisol levels, aggression, and psychopathy was investigated in prison inmates and healthy control groups by Maaike (2008). Results show that criminals (both psychopaths and non-psychopaths) demonstrate more traumatic childhood experiences than the control group. Within the group of criminals, psychopaths showed the lowest diurnal cortisol concentrations, whereas the non-psychopaths demonstrated highest daily average cortisol (DAC) scores. High levels of aggression were related to traumatic childhood experiences in non-psychopaths and control participants, but not in psychopaths. Although psychopathic offenders demonstrated low levels of cortisol, high levels of childhood traumatic experiences and high levels of aggression, cortisol was not a mediating factor between childhood traumatic experiences and aggression. This article could be useful for your next blog on the effect of nurture on psychopathy.,+cortisol+levels,+and+aggression+in+psychopathic+and+non-psychopathic+prison+inmates&id=doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2007.12.011&title=Biological+psychology&volume=78&issue=1&date=2008&spage=75&issn=0301-0511


  2. Super interesting topic you chose! I immediately thought about Ted Bundy while reading your article. I looked up this article that came up as I was searching about him. Maibom (2008) states it is common that people have argued psychopaths are not morally responsibly for they lack capacities for morality. He argues that psychopaths don’t lack abilities required for deep moral understanding (thought they have deficits in the area), and he also argues that psychopathy is merely a moral disorder. This is due to psychopathic violence, they shouldn’t be pleaded under the insanity plead- it would be like excusing someone for committing a crime cause it was bad. Quite an interesting read. I’m looking forward to your other blogs!

    Maibom, H.L. (2008). The Mad, the Bad, and the Psychopath. Neuroethics, 1(3), 167-184. doi:10.1007/s12152-008-9013-9


  3. great topic, another very interesting read. i found a great article about female serial killers and their story, including how it all started. one thing that surprised me within the article is that for every six serial killers one of them is female. it is a very interesting read and may help you with a future blog. female serial killers hasn’t really been looked into as much as males due to people didn’t think there would be women that could do it. this article talks more about some reasons why there has been an increase in interest in female serial killers and even offers some reasons why they did what they did.


  4. This week I looked at antisocial personality disorder and talked about Ted Bundy, so this reminded me a lot of him. What I find most interesting when it comes to psychopaths and serial killers is the motive for doing what they do. In a 1994 article by Keeney and Heide it was found that motive for serial murder differed between men and women. Men tended to kill and kill repeatedly in order to have power over their victims. (Something that can be seen in Ted Bundy for sure). Male murderers tend to seek the thrill of the murder and the power that comes with taking another life, and they are also more likely to kill out of anger or rage. On the other hand, women are more likely to kill for emotional reasons (such as being hurt by a romantic partner, feeling like they have been wronged), or for some kind of gain perhaps through insurance money. I think it’s interesting to look at gender differences when it comes to psychopathic tendencies and serial murder as there may be totally different theories for why men murder vs. women.


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