By dissecting the factors and similarities found in the psychological illnesses of the most dangerous serial killers of our time, this essay will assert that all serial killers are in some way the same when it comes to the cognitive processes of the brain. Using our discernment of crime causation and the intertwining crime theories related to mass murder will better our understanding of how and why serial killers are created. The most prominent theories we will be looking at are Rational Choice theory, Strain theory, Social learning theory and Biological Determinism theory.
According to Allely C, Minnis H et al. (2014), a murderer is someone who kills another with “malice aforethought”, however, premeditation isn’t a requirement. A mass murder is someone who kills multiple people all within a short period of time, which distinguishes them from serial killers, who murder multiple people over a long period of time. Traditionally, to be a noted as a serial killer one must have killed three or more people. Although the three types of murderers listed all have similar traits, their dissimilar intentions differentiate their personalities as a whole.
Rational Choice Theory occurs on the premise that the possible advantages of committing a specific act or crime outweigh the possible disadvantages in relation to the offender (Cornish D et al. 1987). Once the perpetrator has made a decision based on greater pleasure gained than pain, it is to them the most ‘Rational’ decision to go through with the crime, whether it be gaining money to help feed themselves and their family, committing a crime that would result in them feeling a proud sense of vengefulness or murdering someone who has done them wrong . This way of thinking is prevalent in the majority of people when it comes to day-to-day events, important life choices or even business decisions. However, these extreme acts of violence and criminal activity stem from a much larger spectrum of behaviour that the average person is exposed to and many different factors affect the thought process of a person relating to committing a crime (Allely C et al. 2014).
Mullen P (2000) associates the presence of a mental disorder to influence the likelihood of an individual to commit murder. This article dissects the shrinking number of such crimes related to the large variety of mental disorders, as well as the resulting political cover generated by the public. Mullen P (2000, pp.575) says that the “community expects mental health professionals to minimise the risks they face from mentally disordered people” which separate the two factions, and in turn leads to a more inclusive imbalance . The divide between the two groups supports his statement, for which he asserts “The perpetrators of massacres are predominantly awkward, obsessive individuals who are overwhelmed by resentment at their own powerlessness” Mullen P (2000, pp.575), and displays the effect that a disagreement across different groups can have. This study presents a in-depth understanding of the perpetrator and their subjects, as well as explains how the two as a unity couldn’t acquaint to the other. Rational Choice theory ties in with the cognitive influences a person experiences due to various mental illnesses, but also links closely to Biological Determinism Theory.
A person’s biology, genetics and mental illnesses can substantially affect the possibility of that person committing a crime, and in some cases, increase the chances of re-offending. Biological Determinism Theory suggests that the genetic identity of a person is what represents them as a potential criminal. According to a study done by Bowles J (2000), serial killers have become so frequent that laws are being created that require youths who display excessive harm to animals to undergo ‘preventative psychiatric counselling’, as showing cruelty towards animals is an early trait of many children who end up as serial killers. Mental illnesses can affect a person’s reward system in that they might misinterpret the levels of pleasure versus pain from a specific crime. For example, Kocsis R (2008) explains serial killers tend to lose all interest in their victims after they are deceased, so they are more likely to extend the period in which the inflict harm to their subjects, simulating horrendous acts of torture to elongate their pleasure. Different mental illnesses and diseases to the brain result in different acts of violence enticed by different reasons for which the crime was committed, serial murder usually falls under short-lived pleasure due to an onset childhood illness or a brain injury sometimes shown through odd and gruesome acts to animals.
Serial killers tend to encapsulate homogeneous traits when closely examined, which in turn allows for a better understanding of the origins of psychopathy in a person. In a study done by Söderström, A. H. (2005), it was discovered that the most frequent juvenile-onset neuropsychiatric disorders in violent offenders were various forms of disruptive behavioural disorders, such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and conduct disorder. However, a considerable minority of these offenders were known to have Tic disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder and mental retardation/learning disabilities. Aside from the wide variety of ASDs (Autism Spectrum Disorders), a study done by Stone (2009) noticed a connection between serial killers and head injuries, going as far as suggesting that for every four perpetrators, one has suffered a head injury or a severe condition affecting the brain — such as Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) (Angrilli A et al. 2013) — throughout their early childhood.
Strain Theory operates on the basis that many people have similar aspirations and goals, but dissimilar resources and opportunities, which in turn may cause individuals to commit unethical ways — mostly crimes — of achieving said aspirations. Eriksson L et al. (2013) explores the assorted experiences both men and women feel prior to murdering an intimate partner, and explains how the tend to undergo different feelings and emotions. Accounts of men killing their intimate partner are accompanied by reports of the man ‘losing control, suspecting infidelity, involuntary separation, jealousy and rage’. This differs greatly from what women report, which are almost always ‘feelings of fear and desperation from exposure to domestic violence in social isolation’ (Daly, M. et al. 1988). Men and women who experience strain do so for very different reasons and the reaction to said experiences usually classes a person as a survivor or a murderer.
Emotions of a negative nature, accompanied by feelings of neglect and powerlessness are a primary source when it comes to the relationship between strain and criminal behaviour such as the murder of an intimate partner (Agnew, R. 1992). Research done by (Piquero et al. 2004) shows a stronger connection between anger and interpersonal aggression than burglary, larceny, arson etc. This shines a light on crime as being an unlawful method of dealing with difficult experiences of strain and unwelcome emotions, which would allow the victim of these negative emotions to flee or decrease the level of strain (Kerr K et al. 2015). In the eyes of the offender, crime is a coping mechanism used to release strain and stress against the individual from whom the strain originated (Agnew, R. 1992). Rational Choice, Strain and Biological Determinism theories play themselves into most of all the cases of murder and serial homicide, but some theories are more important than others. General Strain Theory accounts for most interpersonal murders (Piquero et al. 2000), however, cases like these don’t resume with the perpetrators reoffending due to the nature of the crime. It is inevitable that the majority of individuals will be exposed to some sort of strain and unwanted emotions at some point or another, nonetheless, only a very substantial minority end up turning to crime. Rational Choice and Biological Determinism play a larger role than General Strain Theory in that an individual who doesn’t suffer from a childhood-onset mental illness and has grown accustom to social norms is much less likely to react to negative emotions criminally (Agnew, R. 2001). Rational Choice theory suggests the assumption that a perpetrator responds selectively to specific crimes — in their relation to their costs, benefits and opportunities — and whether or not to supplant their attention (Cornish D 1987).
Although General Strain Theory may account for a large number of crimes between partners, the offenders are less likely to reoffend, whereas those under the influence of a distorted Rational Choice Theory will reoffend for as long as the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Biological Determinism Theory can sometimes be the causing factor for Rational Choice to even be an option for criminal behaviour. Taking actions towards the overall prevention of biological determinism at a young age that would further lead to the creation of a serial killer would be most beneficial in that stopping a problem from its origins is better than undergoing damage control. In a study examined by Kerr K (2015) onset childhood emotional loneliness was present in six cases of sexual homicide. Mental Illnesses and brain injuries that stem from a young age aren’t the only causes of biological determinism, but also social isolation, as it can be perceived as a form of psychological suffering that can become premise for violent behaviour in the future (Marshall, W. L. 1989). This ties Biological Determinism and Social Learning Theory together as an intertwining factor that causes more problems for an individual to cope with, whether it be criminally or non-criminally. When explored, both General Strain Theory and Rational Choice Theory seem to have an underlying case of Biological Determinism and Social Learning Theory which acts as the root cause of the perpetrators immoral and violent behaviour. The lack of attention to a child’s mental illness can affect their capability to function properly as a grownup and by leaving unattended problems prevalent in the individual’s life, their only permeable solution might be to use criminal activity as a coping mechanism whether to simulate attention and proper consequential response from a higher authority.
In conclusion, children who have shown obvious traits of an early psychopath should be admitted into a facility where they are consistently monitored and where they attend compulsory counselling so that the early onset issues can be resolved with proper measures. This will ensure a lower risk for a troubled and young individual burdened with a mental illness to become murders and serial killers. Teaching them the correct way to cope with negative emotions will help them immensely in their life time and may — as a result of psychological and neuropsychiatric treatment — save countless lives. As stated by Bowles J (2000), individuals who have shown traits of a future psychopath and are forced — by law — to undergo psychological treatment are less likely to commit crimes in the future as they are taught the correct ways of coping with negative emotions and unwanted stress. Rational Choice theory, Strain theory, Social Learning theory and Biological Determinism theory all play a part in the making of a murderer and a serial killer, but taking into consideration that Biological Determinism plays the biggest part and finding more ways to prevent individuals to reacting negatively would highly benefit those who are the victims of mental illnesses, as it would benefit those around them as well.