How One Becomes A Serial Killer?

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Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, David Berkowitz, Rose West, and Andrei Chikatilo. These are all names of famous serial killers but what made them that way? Are serial killers genetically born will the urges to take away another human beings life or does the environment they grow up in mold them into the killers they soon become?

The peak of a serial killers activity generally happens when they are in their early twenties to mid thirties, but what happened during their childhood and adolescent years that force them to this point? What’s the neuropsychology behind serial killers? Are they born with the urges hardwired into their genetics or do brain dysfunctions cause their urges to kill? The five serial killers that were mentioned in the beginning all grew up with different lives. Some had a decent childhood and a seemingly normal adulthood, and some grew up with dark and twisted childhood and an even more twisted and dark adulthood, but all ended up with the same fate.

A common attribute among serial killers is growing up with childhood traumas. Multiple serial killers were either born out of wedlock or they were adopted, a few were even sons of prostitutes. Although there are some exceptions to this, most serial killers grow up being physically and mentally abused. A number of serial killers even admitted having had highly uncertain or overwhelming relationship with their mothers that were generated by both the person having a sexual attraction towards their mother and by maternal abuse. In some cases there is also a family history of substance abuse and psychiatric disorder. Oftentimes, lying, stealing, destroying property, setting fires, and being cruel and callous to other children, are aggressive, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns serial killers possess throughout their childhood. Numerous serial killers grew up lonely, shy, or they had the feeling of being neglected, discarded, and unloved. Antisocial behavior is common among serial killers, with some exceptions, and during childhood some traits such as; bedwetting, fire setting, an cruelty to animals, can predict a antisocial adulthood. During young adulthood, these soon to be killers start out their career with assault which then soon accelerates to battery, then arson, then rape and ultimately murder. Sadistic fantasies that are seen among serial killers tend to evolve during childhood and adolescent years and are a important factors in recognizing young children who are on the path of becoming sexually sadistic serial killers.

All serial killers fantasise about what they want to happen, (how they want to kill, what they want to do the the person, ect.) this normally starts during the adolescent time of their lives, can sometimes start during childhood, and flourishes over their lifetime. Sooner or later the serial killer will start to include real life people he/she actual knows into their fantasies and being to mentally prepare new realistic fantasies. As their fantasies get more developed, they start to depersonalize their victims. The victims end up being diminished to worthless object that only exists for the offenders satisfaction. As soon as the killers have fully acted out their fantasies and have gotten away with it, they tend to feel progressively empowered. They feel invincible which only motivates their killing spree. After awhile a killers sequence of abduction, torture, and murder becomes more ritualized and more polished. The serial killers become more and more methodical in the way they kill and in the way they elude their capture by learning from their mistakes and near-misses. A single absence of moral sense merged with an enlarged feeling of entitlement characterizes these sadistic killers that cross over the thin line to actual predation on other people. Descriptors that can be used to characterize these killers contain; a hostile emotional state and emotional instability, lack of empathy, lack of responsibility, poor impulse control, low self-confidence, and a low frustration tolerance.

Frontal lobe dysfunctions can be related to violent, nonsexual crimes, such as murder, and temporal lobe dysfunction can be related to sexual, somewhat non violent crimes, such as pedophilia. Dysfunctions to both regions of the brain can be related to crimes, like rape, that combined both sexual and violent elements. There are two different types of aggression, affective and predatory. Affective aggression is associated with high states of physiological and emotional arousal and it usually happens when species are fighting for territory, food, social statuses, and mates. Predatory aggression is associated with low physiological and emotional arousal, and it usually involves some level of initial stalking, and it usually happens across all species, “it’s not out of hatred or revenge: it’s business, not personal” (Miller 2014). Affective aggression killers seem to be lacking in their capability to control aggressive instincts, that are produced by subcortical limbic structures, caused by damage to the frontal lobe. Predatory aggressive killers maintain their frontal lobe activity in order to handle, control, and regulate actions, but they do so with the aid of their limbically motivated, irresistible impulse for sex and dominance over another human being. Both predatory and affective aggression are not confirmed in all animal species but such creatures wouldn’t be able to survive without these traits and under certain situations, the same could be accurate for humans.

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Excessive theta activity in the brain is one of the most commonly detected electroencephalographic (EEG), a type of monitoring method used to record electrical activity in the brain, abnormalities that corresponds with violence. An abnormality, like this, is consistent with the low arousal theory, which states that people with abnormalities like this seek extreme stimulation through antisocial behavior in order counteract their low levels of physiological arousal, in other words they are known as sensation seekers.

Ted Bundy did not have any major childhood traumas growing up but he did show signs becoming a sadistic serial killer. During his adolescent years Bundy recalls growing up antisocial and he would wonder the street looking for open widows for which he spy on oblivious women. He had a substantial juvenile record during his adolescent years but by the time he was around twenty six years of age he had graduated college and was on a career path in law or politics. That career path was cut short though, after bandy realized his true desire in life after brutally assaulting his first victim. Even after the body count started to climb, the police regularly ruled him out because of his supposedly respectable character and appearance. Ted Bundy was a seemingly normal person...or so people thought. Bundy is one exception to the statement about how serial killer are made by childhood traumas, but he did show a few of the signs you typically see in most children whole later become killers.

David Berkowitz, also referred to as Son of Sam, is a famous serial killer like Bundy except Berkowitz had a very different childhood. Berkowitz falls under the category of serial killers who had a traumatic childhood. Berkowitz had unmarried parents and ended up being put up for adoption and his adoptive parents ended up changing his first and middle and gave him their surname. Starting at a young age he started to show many signs of being a violent sadistic serial killer. He was above average intelligence but lost all interest in school and became more concentrated with disobedient behavior. Berkowitz is a serial killer who falls between the cracks of being the normal dark and twisted serial killers who shows all the signs and the serial killers who, to others seem like a normal human being but behind closed doors are the violent sadist killers they fantasises about being.

Rose west is a british, female serial killer who teamed up with her husband to torture and kill at least nine young woman. When she was a teenager her parents separated, she started out living with her mother but six months later she moved in with her father when she was sixteen. Her father suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and he repeatedly sexually abused rose and her older sister. Rose had been getting raped by her father from the age of ten and at the beginning of puberty she would parade around semi-naked in the presence of her younger brother. On multiple occasions, at just the age of thirteen, rose would sneak into her youngest brother, Gorden, room and molest him. She also raped her brother Graham when he was just twelve years old. When Rose got older she regularly worked as a prostitute, and often while her husband watched and she encouraged Fred, her husband, to start abusing their daughter when she was just eight years old and Rose would also abuse the girl herself. Rose grew up with a very traumatic childhood that puts her in the category of serial killers category of their childhood pushed them to this point.

There are many signs out there warning us about what path a child is heading down based on their choice, what’s going on in their life and their personality. It is predicted that, children who have tendencies of enjoyment of animal cruelty, bedwetting, and firesetting, run a high risk of having antisocial behavior in the future. Children also run a high risk of becoming a serial killer if they have these five stereotyped, violent patterns; destroying property, setting fires, stealing, lying, or if they are callous and cruel to other children.

In her online article, Davies (2018) states “Genetics loads the gun, their personality and psychology aim it, and their experiences pull the trigger,” so both a killers genetics and the environment they grow up in combine to motivate their violent behavior. Not every serial killer out there has suffered from childhood traumas or abuse and not every single child out there has become a serial killer. Nevertheless, there seems to be a stronger correspondence between child abuse/traumas and serial killers rather than serial killers being born with the urges hardwired into their genetics.

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How One Becomes A Serial Killer? (2022, July 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from
“How One Becomes A Serial Killer?” Edubirdie, 08 Jul. 2022,
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