Psychology of Serial Killers: Nature Vs Nurture

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The question of whether or not a man is determined to lead a life of crime and destruction is a question that has and will continue to be debated for decades. Do serial killers develop a desire for murder for as they start to grow up; through years of abuse and torment, or are they born with it? Some scientists believe that a child can be born with the capacity to commit a horrible act such as murder, while others believe that it is impossible for an innocent child to be born like that. Therefore, society is the one that pushes them into corruption (Warf 2002). The way a child is raised, social relations, and social-economical problems are the most important ways a serial killer can be created. In addition, family backgrounds have a significant role in the life of a child, but genetics should not be ignored. Chemical properties and hormones are essential in the genetics of a serial killer, because they can lead to crime and violence (Quinn 2006).

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In short, both nature and nurture are essential in shaping a serial killer. All serial killers have three aspects that they show in their childhood. The first one is bedwetting which is related to psychological, emotional, and physical abuse. Secondly, is the act of fire setting. Children who create fires to random things, feel so much negative emotions such as; anger, and hatred, that they cannot control their impulsions towards starting a fire (Vronsky 269). Lastly, another sign that children show at a young age, can be descried as feeling deep motivation and impulsion to torturing animals. In addition, they usually enjoy spending time with dead animals, that some even resort to taxidermy (Warf 2002). Taxidermy is when an animal’s body is preserved via mounting, or stuffing. Research into serial killers has been getting more comprehensive over time. But even though there are many investigations and researches into the mind of serial killers, there is still not enough scientific information about why they do horrible things (Quinn 2006). In 1998, a new law that defined the term ‘serial killers’ was established. The term ‘serial killer’ is a person who murders three or more people, because of pleasure. The murders take place over an extended period of time, and with a significant break in between the murders (Interview: McGrath). While some may kill for revenge or robbery, serial killers do not.

Serial killers act because of their deep, suppressed emotions, they are not driven by greed, revenge, hatred, envy or spur-of-the-moment violence. So, one might ask themselves, how are serial killers created? In the psychological community, the debate of nature versus nurture has been and will continue to be an endless one. People who study society, social interaction and culture of everyday life such as sociologists, have been dealing with this issue for years in analyzing serial killers. One of the questions that is constantly being asked is: does nature, nurture, or a mixture of both are what create a serial killer? Proponents of the nature side of the debate, argue that all our traits are decided as soon as we are born. Nature focuses on the characteristics a person is born with, such as; personality traits, genetic make-up, and physical predispositions (Keltner 2003). Proponents of nature take into consideration DNA, and biological connections to our parents. A syndrome that is very common in the nature side of serial killers, is the XYY syndrome.

The Y chromosome is about maleness which causes more aggressive, impulsive, and violent behavior. People who have the XYY syndrome can be have a greater motivation towards killing and be more sadistic (Vronsky 247). People who are on the side of nurture, believe that what determines what a person becomes and who they are, is based on the environment around them. Nurture emphasizes on the experiences that change and mold us as we grow up, what we are thought at school, our culture, and how we are raised by our parents (Keltner 2003). The way a child is raised and the environment around them can completely change who they will become. But combining a traumatic upbringing and genes can have a bad result on what a person becomes in the future. One of the serial killers that is referred as being created through nature is David Berkowizt, known as the Son of Sam. In 1976, David terrorized the New York City area from July 1976 to July 1977, he killed six people and wounded seven, using a .44 revolver gun. When David was a child, everyone who knew him, described him as a polite and quiet young man (Vronsky 279). He was adopted by Nathan and Pearl Berkowitz, and they raised David in a supportive, and loving environment.

Nathan and Pearl Berkowitz gave David everything he needed and wanted, they treated him with as much love as a parent could give, and David grew up in an environment that could lead to good mental health and happiness. David grew up in such a healthy environment without trauma, that shows the only reason he could have acted out, was because he is an example of a serial killer created by nature. As stated before, nature deals with genetics, therefore, this was a predominant cause that lead David into a killing spree. Since David’s upbringing was a good one, the nature of his inner self must be examined. Although there is no record of the mental health or criminal history, of David’s biological parent’s, it is assumed that biological factors contributed to his negative behavior (Vronsky 286). David’s positive childhood environment was not able to override his natural mental tendencies towards killing. David stated that his reason for killing was that to keep the demons quiet (Vrosnky 288). He claimed that the demons in his head would not leave him alone and stop tormenting him; in order to get rid of the demons, he began to do whatever they wanted. This shows that David had a psychological problem. Another example of his mental disorder appeared when he was an adult, which continued to affect his life. He convinced himself that his house owners were part of the demon conspiracy, so he moved into another apartment, but was still controlled by the demons in his head (Vronsky 289). This evidence shows that David suffered from deep mental dysfunction, most likely born in his genes. Another example of a serial killer born through nature is Jeffrey Dahmer, known as the Milwaukee Cannibal.

Dahmer, murdered, raped, and dismembered seventeen boys and men between the years of 1978 and 1991. Dahmer had a normal childhood with no abuse or serious neglect, he describes that he felt a compulsion towards committing the crimes (Vronsky 244). Did David commit all these crimes because he was born with psychological problems, or was there aspects of the way he was raised that set him on the wrong path? David states that he felt a compulsion towards killing and could not resist the urge to behave differently. Despite cases like the Son of Sam, and Jeffrey Dahmer, where nature takes the main role in the contribution of creating a serial killer, many times nature is not the only or the main factor towards shaping a serial killer. The way a child is raised can change their entire life; it can change their personality, and attitude (Keppel 2003) Ed Gein, and Ted Bundy are well known serial killers in history, and the thing that connects them, is that both of them had a traumatic childhood that lead to destruction. Ed Gein was born in 1906 as the younger of two boys. Gein was a shy boy that grew up with a dominant, deeply religious mother who often taught her children that women were evil and discouraged them of all sexual desires, and Geins father was an alcoholic. Gein was unhealthily too attached to his mother, which caused great criticism and jealousy from his older brother Henry, who died in a mysterious fire. It wasn’t till later that Gein was suspected of killing his own brother, and after his mother died there was no one to control his impulses, therefore, Gein started to perform gruesome experiments on dead bodies and live out his dark fantasies.

In the book, Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters, Peter Vronsky states that when the police visited Gein’s farm, They foundhuman entrails in the refrigerator; shoebox with nine vulvasand masks made out of the flesh of females. The trigger to his killing spree is that he believed by collecting fresh bodies, he could transform himself into the sex change that he wanted. Gein claims that his killing spree and disturbing psychological state was due to his love-hate relationship towards his mother (Vronsky 186). Another serial killer that started due to the environmental conditions around them, was one of the most infamous killers of all time; Ted Bundy. Vronsky states, He was a necrophiliac who kidnapped, murdered, raped and mutilatedtwenty college-age women over a period of six monthskept four heads in his apartment. Bundy was born in 1946 in Burlington, Vermont as Theodore Robert Cowell, to an unmarried mother of 22. During the 1940s having a child out of wedlock was scandalous, as a result, Bundy was made to believe by his grandparents that he was their son and that his mother was his sister (Keppel 198-199).After Bundy’s mother married his stepfather, known to him as his uncle, he attempted to form a relationship with Bundy; however Bundy continued to be distant and detached himself from them. When Bundy was a child, he was socially awkward, and had a low self-esteem, and because of this he was often pranked and teased by bullies in his middle school.

Although Bundy was constantly bullied, he was fascinated by politics and enjoyed skiing, as he grew up, he appeared to be a normal young man, and was devastated when his first love left him. However, Bundy did not deal with grief as most people do. At the same time that his heart was broken, he discovered who his true parents were, and that had a serious impact on him. Bundy became addicted to pornography which he claims, it was what led him to do what he did (Keppel 198-199). This addiction, along with the trauma that took place in his life, most likely played a major role in contributing to mental deterioration, and violent behavior. An important step to stopping homicidal rampages that serial killers go on, is by understanding why and how serial killers commit such horrific crimes. Scientists found that genetics is the key role in determining who becomes a serial killer, however, psychologist and criminologist argue that major events such as abandonment, and abuse set the foundation in which a serial killer grows into a sadistic mass murderer. Both arguments are strongly proved and explained above, with the stories of the Son of Sam, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, and Ted Bundy.

It is a mix of both cultural upbringings, and genetics that shape a serial killer. Many humans deal with violent situations as children and go through horrific events, many of them do not become serial killers. It is true that children who are victims of abuse become violent in their adult lives but to cross the line of a serial killer, one must have some negative biochemical makeup to make them act out. Nature does decide what traits we are born with, but these traits cannot be exposed without a mechanism that triggers serial killers into committing horrific crimes. If we curb domestic violence, then maybe the chances for a serial killer to become violent as they grow up, will decrease in a significant way that will make our world a safer place. If we had better knowledge on what creates a serial killer, then future advancements towards preventing these crimes could be offered by supporting abused children.

In addition, with the development of new technology, scientists could develop a drug that could help an individual function successfully and help serial killers with their genetics. However, most serial killers don’t accept help, nor do they stop, no matter what help is offered to them. Serial killers continue to kill until they are stopped and arrested, and even then, they have no desire to become better. In conclusion, it is important to not give up on individuals in our society, because if this happened, society would lack the social cohesion that is essential for human flourishing. The only way to get a better understanding of a serial killer is to get inside their heads, and try to comprehend their life experiences, and why an individual has become a heartless, cold person who goes to extreme lengths to harm people.

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Psychology of Serial Killers: Nature vs Nurture. (2019, Jul 24). Retrieved November 30, 2022 , from

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