Are Serial Killers Born Psychopaths or Pushed to that Limit

I chose this topic because I have always found an interest in stories and documentaries about serial killers extremely interesting, some people refer to me as crazy or weird for my interest in world renowned serial killers such as Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and so many more. I find myself wondering how could a person appear to be so normal and commit gruesome crimes? I wonder how their brain functions or what in their brains cause them to be Psychopaths?

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What is a Psychopath or Psychopathy?

Psychopathy is a personality disorder defined by a constellation of affective and behavioral symptoms. These symptoms include a shallow effect: lack of empathy, guilt and remorse; irresponsibility; impulsivity; and poor planning and decision making. (Kiehl and Hoffman, 2011)

Philippe Pinel (1745-1826) was the founding father of modern Psychiatry, who was the first to describe a group pf patients affected with Mania sans Delire (Insanity without delirium) which describes individuals who had no intellectual problems but a profound deficit in behavior typified by marked cruelty, antisocial acts, alcohol and drug use, irresponsibility, and immorality. Pinel described a type of moral insanity that occurred in the absence of confusion in mind and intellect, differentiating these cases from patients with psychotic behaviors.

People often confuse Psychosis and Psychopathy as the same thing as in which they are not. Psychosis is a loss of contact with reality like hallucinations, delusions and dis disordered thoughts. Psychosis presents itself in disorders like Schizophrenia bipolar disorder, and major depression. Psychotic symptoms are not typically observed in individuals with psychopathy. Actually, it was the absence of psychotic symptoms that originally differentiated individuals with psychopathy from other patient groups.

Dr. Robert Hare created the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL) in 1980 and revised it in 1991 (PCL-R) (Hare, 1991) The PCL-R comprises twenty items that are used to assess the presence of psychopathic traits in adults. The standard procedure to complete the PCL-R is comprised of two parts. The first part includes an extensive review of collateral sources of information reports about family, Education, extra-curricular activities, work history, relationships with family and friends The second part of the assessment is a detailed life history interview with the patient. The in-person interview is strongly recommended but not required to validly complete the Psychopathy Checklist provided there is sufficient collateral information on the patient. Thus, the Psychopathy Checklist can be completed even if the patient refuses to cooperate in the interview. Using all available information, the expert rates the patient on the 20 items according to very specific scoring criteria articulated in the PCL-R manual. The scores on the PCL-R range from 0 to 40. The average PCL-R score in the general male population is 4 out of 40. The mean PCL-R score in male prison samples is 22. A score of 30 or higher is considered a high score. Thirty is one-standard deviation above the mean score of prison samples and is the score typically used to signify high, or diagnostic, levels of the traits. Approximately 15-25% of incarcerated males will meet criteria for psychopathy, using 30 as the cut-off score. Psychopathic traits are less common in females than in males. However, within forensic samples, females show a similar distribution of psychopathic traits as men. The mean Psychopathy Checklist score for female offenders is 19 with a standard deviation of 7.5 (Hare, 2001).

In addition to the PCL-R, Dr. Hare and collaborators also developed the PCL- SV (screening version) and PCL-YV (youth version) The PCL-SV is a shorter version of the PCL-R and is useful for assessing psychopathy in non-forensic populations. The PCL-YV is a twenty-item test specifically designed for the assessment of psychopathic traits in males and females between 12 and 18 years old (Neumann et al., 2006). However, the label psychopathy is not advisable in minor populations. Rather these latter traits are referred to as callous/unemotional traits in youth.

These tests are often given to criminals before trial to determine whether they stand to fit trial or not. I personally believe if you kill someone out of anger, revenge, or pleasure you are a true Psychopath. We often find ourselves wondering How do you become a psychopath? Are we born with this or is it because of how we are raised? There has been a long tradition of research on psychopathy that has focused on the lack of sensitivity to punishment and a lack of fear, but those traits are not particularly good predictors of violence or criminal behavior, David Zald, associate professor of psychology and psychiatry and co-author of the study, said. This being said means that just because you have lack of sensitivity or fear doesn’t make you a Psychopath some people have been through things that make them appear this way or causes them to be this way. With that being said not all psychopaths are criminals. Most psychopaths are manipulative, aggressive and impulsive but these features far from always lead to criminal activity.

One of the best sources of information about whether traits are a result or nature of nurture comes from the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart. The Minnesota Twin Study is a project originally led by Minnesota Professor of Psychology Thomas Joseph Bouchard, Jr. The study has shown that psychopathy is 60 percent heritable. This percentage indicates that psychopathic traits are due more to DNA than to upbringing. Recent genetic studies of twins indicate that identical Twins may not be as genetically similar as hitherto assumed. Though only a couple of hundred mutations take place during early fetal development, the mutations likely multiply over the years, leading to vast genetic differences. This leaves open the possibility that psychopathic traits are largely genetically determined. (Berit Brogaard, 2012)

If psychopathy is genetically determined, one should expect some abnormality in the brain, the immediate source of psychopathic traits. A possible candidate for this abnormality has recently been identified in a study at The University of Wisconsin, Madison. That brain scans revealed that psychopathy in criminals was associated with decreased connectivity between the amygdala, a subcortical structure of the brain that processes negative stimuli, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a cortical region in the front of the brain that interprets the response from the amygdala. When the connectivity between these two regions is low, processing of negative stimuli in the amygdala does not translate into any strongly felt negative emotions. This fits well into the picture we have of psychopaths. They do not feel nervous or embarrassed when they are caught doing something bad. They do not feel sad when other people suffer. Though they feel physical pain, they are not themselves in a position to suffer from emotions hurts. The Wisconsin, Madison study shows a correlation between criminal psychopathy and brain abnormality. As this brain abnormality in the majority of cases of psychopathic criminals is not abruptly acquired, there is good reason to think that it’s grounded in the psychopath’s DNA. (Berit Brogaard, 2012)

VIOLENT psychopath (21,700).

Psychopathic serial killer (14,700).

Psychopathic murderer (12,500).

Deranged psychopath (1,050).

When you see the numbers listed above, it really makes you think WOW there are that many people that are psychotic in the world. Psychopaths are overrepresented in prisons; studies indicate that about 25 percent of inmates meet diagnostic criteria for psychopathy. Nevertheless, research also suggests that a sizable number of psychopaths may be walking among us in everyday life. Some investigators have even speculated that successful psychopaths”those who attain prominent positions in society”may be overrepresented in certain occupations, such as politics, business and entertainment. Yet the scientific evidence for this intriguing conjecture is preliminary. (Scott Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz, 2007)

Are serial killers born a Psychopathic or pushed to being a killer? Anyone that can commit a gruesome crime out of anger, revenge, or pleasure is a Psychopath. I came to realize that we might never know if a psychopathic is genetically inherited or caused from the way a person grows up. I believe in some case one outweighs the other as stated above that when The University of Wisconsin, Madison. That brain scans revealed that psychopathy in criminals was associated with decreased connectivity between the amygdala, a subcortical structure of the brain that processes negative stimuli, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a cortical region in the front of the brain that interprets the response from the amygdala. (Berit Brogaard, 2012).

Almost every single serial killer that has been caught admit to torturing animals before there notorious killing sprees such as Brenda Ann Spencer and Jeffery Dahmer as well as admitted that that is what made them realize they enjoy the feeling of killing something. Most serial killers also admit to having a rough and neglectful life before they reach these levels of becoming a killer. So, in my conclusion I feel that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to are you born a psychopath or pushed to that level. Because it has been proven to be both ways because not everyone is born with a disorder some just happen to have things leading up to it.

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Are Serial Killers Born Psychopaths or Pushed to that Limit. (2019, Jul 01). Retrieved December 2, 2022 , from

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