The Causes Of Psychopathy In Serial Killers

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Psychology is the science of behavior and mental processes. Behavior is anything an organism does and any action we can observe and record. Mental processes are the internal, subjective experiences we infer from behavior- sensations, perceptions, dreams, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings(Myers). The key word in the psychology definition is science. It can help evaluate the mind of a criminal and give an explanation for their actions. As I started my research, I found out very quickly that the causes of psychopathy in serial killers often remains unknown to this day, there is no definite answer that we can point to and say that is the answer. Psychopathy starts at birth and continues to grow through life experiences. There are so many factors that play into each situation that it is impossible to draw conclusions to one definite answer. The factors that are known are usually either pointed at as the answer and not really evaluated.

What is misunderstood about serial killers is the common occurrence with their childhood upbringing: Abuse. People like to believe that even though abuse is traumatic, can we really say its the reason for psychopathy. The answer is no, but it is a factor that contributes to psychopathy. Trauma from abuse explains how early childhood abuse can set a child up for deviant behavior in adulthood. In an article by Tammy Vronsky it explains that the environment that surrounds the child can be a factor that determines whether or not their behavior escalates to homicidal activity(Vronsky).

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A serial killer is no different from anyone else who seeks attention from people who are close to them, such as family. The need for approval or attention is what drives individuals at attempting to create relationships with their family or peers, but if rejected, they’re unable to create those relationships. “This can result in lowering of self-esteem and creates a fantasy world in the head of the individual, a world in which they’re in control”(Anderson). Like many people, we often reflect on our childhood and sometimes wonder if a situation would have been different, maybe the outcome would have too. In serial killers, it is common for them to blame their childhood as the reason for their actions. Abuse being the most common, causes trauma to the mind of any individual and causes them to act out, which can result in change of personality or view on life differently. Anger and frustration builds up in the victim and is either lashed out in a moment of time, or is bottled up for years and then taken out on innocent people in a much worse way. For example, a boy who is abused as a child will often take the frustration and experience from his childhood, and use it on his own children because in his head, it’s the only way he comprehends or remembers how he was treated as a child. For a serial killer, the abuse, frustration, or rejection they encounter as a child is commonly bottled up and then once they hit a breaking point, they use that anger to their advantage(Vronsky).

Being abused can have an emotional effect on victims, they will often think “why?” or “it’s my fault” which shows a low self esteem and low value in the meaning of life. This can then explain my earlier question of “why do serial killers want to kill people?” which the answer is because they often have no value of life. Throughout their own life they have had a terrible experience with multiple situations and think they have no purpose. Which is why when they murder another individual, they do not feel bad or guilty about their crime.

Another aspect known among serial killers is social abnormality. Criminals like serial killers often have a hard time fitting in when growing up. This causes them to be excluded from social gatherings and often results in built up frustration or even depression. Those who don’t grow out of this stage, tend to use those emotions as motivation to commit the crimes they become famous for in society. In my survey, less than 10% of responses said that social abnormality was a common occurrence in serial killers. Though, in multiple cases, it is found that when growing up serial killers were always different among others in society they just didn’t understand it at the time or knew how to cover it up.

Some of the most famous serial killers I came to find and research were Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy. They both were very different in their upbringing as a child. Dahmer seemed to be this outgoing young boy who began to fall apart as he got older and eventually committed some gruesome murders America has come to know. Bundy was the complete opposite, he was distant and was considered weird as a child. Though with these early signs, he was considered the average joe for most of his life. It was not until his crimes of murder in 1971 that he became known across the U.S. Both criminals had one thing in common, and that was they were successful for so many years before they were caught by law enforcement. Each though, were completely different in certain aspects of their cases. Dahmer was famous for his 14 year murder rate in which he would drug, murder, and then eat the remains of his victims. Bundy had murdered countless victims for 23 continuous years by manipulating his victims into thinking he was a good guy until he struck and they saw the real side of Bundy.

Psychology of the Brain

It is evident that serial killers have an aspect that is different within their head. The damage that is done to serial killers usually doesn’t result from an injury to the head. From birth, an aspect within their brain is underdeveloped and tends to never grow and mature as the individual ages. Damage within the brain influences serial killers to commit crimes such as murder. The most common section of the brain that is damaged or underdeveloped in serial killers is the frontal lobe. AP Psychology teacher, Anton Borchert explains that, “The frontal lobe is related with the association with reasoning, planning, problem solving, and aggression. Damage to this part of the brain can manipulate and result in actions that are often uncontrollable”(Borchert). This can result in an increase of irritability, which may show mood changes in an individual or not being able to control emotions or behavior. Showing that any individual who receives damage to their frontal lobe will tend to have a harder time controlling their behavior, for serial killers this is much more relevant. I compare it to having a boost of adrenaline, the excitement of an event or situation can often be blinding to the actions of any individual. The act of murdering a victim can be a boost of adrenaline for a serial killer, and while their murdering their victim, they don’t realize what has happened until the moment is over. The uncontrollable urges and coping mechanism back be traced back to the frontal lobe being damaged. This does not mean this situation can be used as an excuse, rather it helps psychologists and society better understand how the actions from the killer may not have been consciously acted upon. The use of PET scans helps point out this issue and bring it to psychologists attention.

More within and deeper in the brain lays the Amygdala, which is located in the Limbic system of the brain which is the emotional center of the brain. This part of the brain controls how emotions interact with one another and sends signals to the body on the type of emotion they’re feeling in the moment. Unlike the frontal lobe, this section of the brain does not become damaged at birth, but is damaged through interactions with others at an early age with serial killers. It is common that serial killers were rejected among society as an adolescent which causes them to form hatred or no emotion at all towards other individuals. “When an individual is rejected and excluded from society, they begin to be very intuitive with themselves and begin to fantasize”(Anderson). These fantasies give a serial killer control over their own life, a chance for them to understand what is going on and nobody else. Since there was no control of being accepted early on in life, these fantasies give them a chance to create their own world where everything is in their hands.

When it comes to the emotions of the amygdala, this explains that the lack of emotion that occurs within serial killers tends to result in having no empathy for their victims, but also even themselves. They know that something is wrong but continue killing others in hopes that the damage will go away, but the urges only feed off these actions and continues to grow. “That is why it is typical for a serial killer to not feel bad about their crimes because they don’t have empathy. The murders are solely for the purpose of having power and control over someone, since they don’t have it over themselves”(Raymond).

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The Causes Of Psychopathy In Serial Killers. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
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