What Motivates a Serial Killer: Thesis Statement

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The term serial killer was first developed in the 1970s and was attributed to a former FBI agent, Rober Ressler, who moved to England following his retirement from the bureau in 1990. Over the years there have been numerous infamous killers who have all been classified as serial killers and the term slowly lost its meaning in the sense that anyone who killed more than three people was automatically distinguished as one. However, there are in fact many diverse types of murderers that share similar attributes but cannot be placed under the category and there are differentiating types of a serial killers based on motive. On a quite simple basis, according to Newburn (2012), a professor of criminology; a Serial killer is a person who kills more than three people in separate events that have a break in-between incidences and often a strong or direct motive as a reason for the crimes that suggests it was the same person committing the acts, this is also the definition that the FBI and various other law enforcing organizations use to define the category with a few variations and differences within the definition but the gist remains the same.

So, what is a motive and how do serial killers gain one, a motive is a catalyst for the crime and places a reason as to why an individual chooses to commit a crime and perhaps even offers an explanation as to why a person committed a crime a certain way. Dorling (2004) provides a reason why crimes may escalate, and a motive may intensify, he calls his theory the Broken Window Theory in which a person commits a crime and gets away with it, and then maybe the next day they commit a slightly bigger crime and get away with it till eventually they are committing felonies instead of minor misdemeanors. Then once someone is executing felonies, they may start drawing in motives such as a serial killer getting high off killing a homeless person so they continue killing homeless people to reach their high, and much like Dorling suggests they must keep escalating the crime to keep reaching the high.

Christopher Berry Dee (2018 pg. 111), who is also a criminologist, supports Newburn's definition of a serial killer in his book Talking to female serial killers in which in a chapter about Patricia Wright in which he claims that a serial killer is a series of three or more separate events with a cooling off period in-between events'. No psychologists can accurately explain why serial killers need a cooling off period in-between events rather than killing people continuously like a mass murderer and despite this distinguishment between the two categories there have been various overlaps in the classifications of both. For example, Charles Manson for a long time was called a serial killer after he ran a cult and as a final practice of the cult, he had the people drink poison to kill themselves. However, since then, he has been changed to a mass murderer as there was no cooling off period as they all died the same night, and some of the events that he ordered them to do led up to that night causing sequential events to take place.

The classification that Charles Mason lies within now is either a spree killer or a mass murderer and there is still some debate around him however some argue that he is a hybrid killer as he technically did not kill them but rather influenced him. I will discuss Charles Manson in Brogaard's (2012) pdf study file later and the different classifications Manson falls into and why perhaps there is a cool-off period after a killing.

Genetics are the building blocks of DNA and have the biological ability to dictate certain features and qualities about a person such as appearance or personality traits. Genetics can alter and change as people get older or certain traits can be damaged by injuries specifically to the head. According to Flanagan et al in the 2020 psychology AQA a level and a level textbook (pg. 114) genes make up chromosomes alongside DNA and form features of an organism, contribute to psychological factors, and genes are transmitted to offspring. Psychopathy is an umbrella term for numerous different antisocial and personality disorders and DNA has been shown to have mutated or dysfunctional genes that can cause this mental disorder or illnesses. These genetics can be inherited or completely naturally developed from different biological factors and can change someone's life. Psychopathology falls on a long spectrum and it is often only those on the higher end of the spectrum that become killers, they often share traits such as pathological lying and the art of manipulation. There is a lot of evidence that supports the idea that genetics are the key factor in determining whether a person has the potential to become a killer and many psychologists seek to investigate just how much of the disorder is based solely on genetics alone.

So, how useful are genetics in distinguishing who will become a killer? This is based on two concepts what genetic differences do serial killers and murderers have in relation to the public and what genetic adaptations may evolve into psychological problems later in life? Brogaard (2014) investigates the case of Charles Manson and why after so many occasions of being miscategorized as a serial killer, Manson's case is quite different from how it was originally perceived. Charles Manson was a charismatic cult leader who believed that white people were supreme and that black people were going to rise during the time of the American race war. He convinced the members of his quasi-commune to go on a killing spree to assist an event he dubbed as the 'Helter Skelter' from the lyrics in a Beatles song of which he was obsessed with the band to describe an apocalyptic race war. In a planned attack, his members killed nine people over the events of two consecutive nights, and whilst Manson himself did not actually kill anyone he was still eventually charged with murder by proxy due to his influence on the others of his so-called family. Brogaard (2014) also looks at concordance rates for psychopathological disorders as a whole and using the study of the Minnesota Twins (Bouchard Jr et al., 2014) is 60% for identical twins who share 100% of their DNA.

These genetic findings then link to Fallon (2009), a professor of neuroscience, who investigates a gene called the MAO-O gene which is a violent gene that works alongside two neighboring genes and is shown to heighten the aggression rates in individuals who have a mutated version of it. In general, there is a variation of this gene in the normal population, and for most people, it will make a minor difference to their lives aside from slightly higher aggression rates. However, the problem lies in the genetics of this genotype, this gene is only found in the X chromosome and therefore when a child is formed, we see a difference in gender. Girls get one X chromosome from their mothers and one from their fathers and this dilutes the gene it balances out the risk to an extent as it removes the gene as a dominant trait whereas in boys, they can only get the X chromosome from their mother and this may explain why so many young boys become aggressive and why most serial killers are men. The Gene itself is passed from mother to son and the gene affects the amount of serotonin during the brain's development, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is supposed to regulate mood in the body however the MAO-O gene causes the brain to become bathed in serotonin during the time spent in the womb and therefore makes a person insensitive to the effects of the transmitter. Going back to Fallon's research (2009) that he mentions in his Ted talk and he explains that by looking at 70 cases of serial killers and doing different brain scans he discovered that there was a trait that a lot of the killers shared aside from cases of brain damage, they shared the MAO-O gene. So, whilst this gene defiantly has contributed to the aggression of individuals it does not define who will kill but highlights the potential for it to happen for the gene to express itself the individual needs to witness an event of violence in their early life to activate the mutated version of the gene.

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However, Fallon's research was based on the findings of a different study by Raine et al (1997) who conducted a study on brain activity in killers to identify any statistical infrequency between the convicted and the normal population. Scanning serval murderers Raine et al found that there was reduced prefrontal cortex activity which as predicted controls emotional impulses using PET scans. The prefrontal cortex plays an executive role in major decision-making and as found helps suppress undesired impulses therefore the lack of activity means that an individual will not be able to resist and will carry out their impulses regardless of others around them. This absence of the needed activity has been linked to various mental disorders such as OCD and antisocial behavior which many killers have been diagnosed with.

Genetics is especially useful as it has shown numerous complications that have helped identify common biological traits that many killers share and who possess the potential of later developing as a killer however there are multiple issues with the genetic explanation alone.

Despite the research, Raine et al (1997) concluded that the PET and CT scans do not prove killings are based solely on these brain abnormalities as many other disorders link to these issues with a lack of activity in the prefrontal cortex and it is dependent on how that expresses in an individual. Along with this the later research by Fallon (2009) showed that this gene is in multiple people and even in the escalated variant a lot of people did not become killers; even Fallon himself had a variation of the gene, so while the gene has relevance to the to a killing trait it cannot be an individual reason to why people become serial killers it just provides a meaning to the aggressive nature a murderer may display.

However, the main argument in this essay against the genetic explanations comes from the concordance rates that Brogaard (2014) found as stated above is only 60% in general between monozygotic twins that share 100% of their DNA explicitly illustrating that there must be other factors influencing whether someone kills.

So, whilst these arguments all do show that genetics do play a key role it cannot be the only factor otherwise doctors and scientists would just check everyone for these three traits and there would be almost no unknown serial killers, and this is not the case. Genetics is a risk factor that could potentially determine who has the genetic build-up to kill others but not the capability to accurately select exactly who will.

Therefore, we must investigate other factors that could also provide an explanation for killers in society. Such as sociology and attachment, according to the A-level sociology textbook (2015 pg. 5), 'sociology is the study of society and of people and of their behavior'. However, this is an extremely broad subject and so for the sake of my argument I will be focusing on the explanations of family and socialization, and from the Psychology AQA textbook (2020) I will focus on the unit of attachment (pg.72-104). Socialization and attachment give a more physical explanation to why certain people become serial killers in the sense that it focuses on the interactions they have made in their life and how that may have impacted the risks that led to a criminal lifestyle. And so, it is particularly important to consider that genetics as a genetic impact could also influence a social interaction a person may have and therefore alter that person's experience completely. such as having an antisocial disorder may lead to more confrontation and arguments which will then affect how that individual with the disorder will interact with others.

Family is important to the development of a child as it is between the ages of one and five that children undergo the process of primary socialization which is the development of a child learning morals, norms, and values of society and other societal expectations.

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What Motivates a Serial Killer: Thesis Statement. (2023, November 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 18, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/what-motivates-a-serial-killer-thesis-statement/
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