Studying the Mind of a Serial Killer Like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jack the Ripper, and the Zodiac Killer: a Research Essay

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Serial killers minds have intrigued us since H.H. Holmes, who became our first American serial killer. Whenever we hear about them. We always want to know all about them, like what they did? And why they did it? The mystery that comes along with people like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jack the Ripper, and the Zodiac killer captivates us, but yet would never want to be associated with one.

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James Fallon, a neuroscientist, studied 70 brains and found these commonalities; usually male, brain damage, too much serotonin, and have witnessed extreme violence. Within their brain, he also found that they have a very low orbital cortex which is in charge of behavior. Other defects include a turned off limbic system and an 18% smaller Amygdala. The interior part of the temporal cortex is also affected in a serial killers brain. Damage caused to the hypothalamus, the frontal lobe, and the limbic system can lead to loss of control, judgement, and aggression. “Neuroscientists have discovered that serial killers have orbitofrontal cortices that are somewhat maladaptive… have less impulse control than the average person, they are more inclined to behave primitively.”

A gene that can predispose people to violence is MAO-A, involved in the breakdown of neurotransmitters serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Also known as the “Warrior Gene”, it doesn’t respond to serotonin in the brain and is a sex linked gene coming from the mother. Having the mutation in the MAO-A gene and growing up around violence can be a recipe for a serial killer. For most serial killers they get too many endorphins in the womb affecting the chemicals in their brain. Without MAO-A, neurotransmitters can build up in the brain and make it harder to control impulses. This makes them not develop a sense of attachment to the world and unable to empathize. Also becoming a trigger to abnormal behavior that is noticeable during puberty.

Causes for the creation of a serial killer can be biological brain damage, the warrior gene, orbital cortex, environment, lead exposure, and the limbic system. Child abuse and psychological abuse are the most common attributes that serial killers share. Their motives are usually from anger, financial gain, seeking attention, or just for the thrill of it. “All serial killers are psychopaths” is a false statement, not all serial killers are psychopaths and not all psychopaths are serial killers. People with antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia can become serial killers, but yet again not all serial killers have these disorders.

Technology like electroencephalography (EEG), functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI), and magnetoencephalography (MEG) is what James Fallon used to examine the brains of serial killers on the behalf of criminal defense lawyers. Through the brain techn ology, neuroscientists like him have been able to find noticeable differences in brain activity and structure in serial killers and the average person. Others like Carlton Simon, Criminologist, and Adrian Raine, Psychologist, have also dedicated their time in learning about a serial killers brain. Rehabilitation for serial killers or people showing signs of one includes Intensive Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Decompression treatment, and a prefrontal brain workout. Pregnant mothers are also advised to include OMEGA-3 fatty acids in their diet to avoid giving birth to a potential serial killer. There is still no proven measure of the effectiveness of psychiatric rehabilitation for potential or actual serial killers, especially the ones in prison. Which is why if someone does go through these treatments its better to do it at the ages 7-15 when they are going through puberty.

Now that more and more releases of serial killer tv shows and movies have been brought out, people have become incredibly fascinated with them and their neurological stance. With neuroscientists hard at work presenting us with new information on their brain scans, we can get an even closer look into the mind of a serial killer and create new technology to reverse the effects on the orbital cortex and limbic system.

Works Cited

  • Maggie. “Serial Killers and Their Brain Chemistry.” Youth Voices Site Wide Activity RSS, 13 Feb.
  • 2018, www.youthvoices.live/2018/02/10/serial-killers-and-their-brain-chemistry/.
  • S.Allelya, Clare, et al. “Neurodevelopmental and Psychosocial Risk Factors in Serial Killers and Mass Murderers.” Aggression and Violent Behavior, Pergamon, 18 Apr. 2014, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1359178914000305.
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Studying the Mind of a Serial Killer like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jack the Ripper, and the Zodiac killer: A Research Essay. (2022, Dec 11). Retrieved February 3, 2023 , from
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