What Makes a Serial Killer: the Psychological Aspect

Multicide is the act of killing multiple people. There are three different categories of multicide; mass murder, spree murder, and serial murder (Knight, 2006). The main difference between these three levels of mass murder is the patterns in which the murders are conducted among each. While all three murders pertain interesting questions as why each of the three categories level occur, the main question for this paper is what makes a serial killer? Serial murderers are classified as people who randomly kill three or more people, who are often complete strangers to them, within 30 days. However, there needs to be some time that elapses between the killings like a cooling off period (Haggerty, 2009). In her article, Some Thoughts on The Psychological Roots of The Behavior of Serial Killers as Narcissists: An Object Relations Perspective, Rhonda G. Knight best describes serial killers as a type of abnormal behavior which breaches the boundaries of consensual rationality and normality, and act insane and in forms of terrorism without being classified as insane (Knight, 2006). Serial killers have been dated back to the 1400’s, and some of the most commonly known serial killers known across the United States are Jack the Ripper, The Zodiac Killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ted Bundy to name a few. Serial killers are also portrayed in movies as well.

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Such characters are Jigsaw, Chucky, and Freddy Krueger. Not all serial killers have the same motive, and that is why that today there is still no direct understanding as the psychological and criminal behavior behind serial killers (Knight, 2006). From what we do know, there are four main components to understand a serial killer; personality type, child abuse, sex drive, and narcissism. The personality types a serial portrays can be bipolar mood disorder, paranoia, antisocial personality disorder, schizoid personality, the most common is dissociative identity disorder (Knight, 2006). Dissociative identity disorder is described as a disruption of identity characterized by two or more personality states (Gabbard, 2014). What this means is that a person with dissociative identity disorder has multiple personalities. Multiple personality disorder generally forms through traumatic experiences and the brain will break off different personalities to essentially form different people within one body. Movies such as The Three Faces of Eve correctly portray dissociative identity disorder. Roughly 1-3% of the general population across the world has been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. It is slowly becoming a more common psychological disorder to diagnose, but still little is known about how to treat patients with it (Gabbard, 2014).

Psychopathy is another personality type disorder that is known among serial killers. Jeffrey Dahmer is the most famous example of psychopathy. Psychopathic serial killers are generally manipulative, remorseless, and use charm and violence to lure their victims (LaBrode, 2007). The cause of this personality disorder relates to the amygdala in the brain. As Rebecca Taylor Labrode states in her article, Etiology of the Psychopathic Serial Killer: An Analysis of Antisocial Personality Disorder, Psychopathy, and Serial Killer Personality and Crime Scene Characteristics, the amygdala is involved in aversive conditioning, instrumental learning, and responses to fearful and sad facial expressions, which are all processes that have been found to be impaired in people with psychopathy (LaBrode, 2007). Personality types are not the sole cause for serial killers, but they are one piece to the puzzle. Many of the issues that are brought upon by serial killers all start with their childhood, and what I mean by that is generally their childhood is not all chocolate and rainbows. For the most part, the childhood of serial killers is violent and abusive. There are generally four categories of abuse; physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. These serial killers, as children, do not have to face abuse to themselves to develop issues. Seeing loved one experience it or being surrounded in that environment can lead to detrimental effects on children (Mitchel & Aamodt, 2005). The presence, or absence, of a father or mother can be a factor in serial killers. As well as whether they were neglectful, controlling, smothering, or authoritative (Knight, 2006). Anger and aggression begin to form early on in childhood, and as young adolescents they could start running into trouble with the law with misdemeanors.

Sexual abuse in households can play a factor in a strong sex drive in serial killers. Serial killers tend to have an uncontrollable sex drive and are sexually motivated. They generally kill for some sexual gratification (Mitchell & Aamodt, 2005). According to Zelda Knight, characteristics of sexually driven serial killers include humiliating and degrading their victims, take trophies from their victims, leave a signature, and enjoy the torture and pain of their victims. They get off from the torture and pain of their victims (Knight, 2006). Another characteristic is that they generally kill prostitutes. This characteristic can be due to that many of their mothers were prostitutes and they were the outcome of appointments’ between their mother and one of the men (Knight, 2006). For many of them, they are the offspring of illegitimacy, or for many given up and out up for adoption by their birth mothers. The final component to evaluate is the narcissism among serial killers. What is meant among this is that serial killers take pride among their and they would like to be known for it. The common characteristics listed previously provide examples for this, as well as a few more characteristics. Such characteristics include; take trophies from their victims, they are above average intelligence, sometimes revisit the scene, and show no signs of abnormality (Knight, 2006). The main, important characteristic that shows their level of narcissism is leaving a signature at the crime scene. It could be a label, or symbol that they leave behind as a trademark for them, or their signature can be a unique way in which they handle their victims before they kill them.

The four components that were examined among serial killers were their personality types, their childhood experience growing up, their insatiable sex drive, and their level of narcissism. As stated in the beginning of the paper, to this day we do not know the direct relationship that causes people to turn into serial killers later on in life. This is due to the fact that not all serial killers act the same way, and they are all triggered and driven by different things. Excessive drug and alcohol abuse, uncontrollable rage, being in charge or have the power, and the tendency for their violence to increase over time are other factors that can contribute to the cause of some psychopaths (Knight, 2006). However, what is known so far is that the four main components commonly seen among serial killers is the four thoroughly explained in this paper. More and more people are studying to see what makes a serial killer, but few is known on how to treat serial killers, which will be the next step in understanding them. References Gabbard, G. O. (2014). Gabbard’s Treatments of Psychiatric Disorders. Washington, DC, London, England: American Psychiatric Publishing. Knight, Z. G. (2006). Some thoughts on the psychological roots of the behavior of serial killers as narcissists: an object relations perspective. Social Behavior and Personality, 34(10), 1189-1206. LaBrode, R. T. (2007). Etiology of the psychopathic serial killer: an analysis of antisocial personality disorder, psychopathy, and serial killer personality and crime scene characteristics. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 7(2), 159-160. Mitchell, H., Aamodt, M. G. (2005). The incidence of child abuse in serial killers. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 20(1), 40-47.

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What Makes a Serial Killer: The Psychological Aspect. (2019, Jul 24). Retrieved November 29, 2022 , from

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