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Epq: Serial Killers - Nature or Nurture?

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EPQ: Serial Killers - Nature or Nurture?:

Abstract/Project outline

I have chosen to do my EPQ on Serial Killers because I watched a documentary on Netflix about Serial Killers and I am also very interested in Forensic Psychology and would love to pursue that as a future career. This topic of Serial Killers really interested me and I wanted to find out more about Serial Killers and how they become how they do, is it through the way they were brought up by their parents, and the things they were expose to as children, or is it something in their genetic makeup that makes them think and act upon their thoughts the way they do. In this EPQ I will discover arguments for both genetic makeup (nature) and how they were brought up and the things they were exposed to (nurture) to find out which has the biggest impact on the creation of a Serial Killer.


Drilling into the skull of a young man he began to funnel a stream of sulphuric acid into the head of his unconscious victim to create a zombie to fulfil all of his fantasies. Dead within a day, he mummified the head of his victim placing it in the freezer beside the skulls of those who came before. Dismembering the remnants of the body he placed skin, blood, and bone into a fifty-gallon vat of acid dissolving what was left of the young man. This is the mind of Jeffrey Dahmer, he murdered not in anger, revenge, or financial enrichment but on impulse and the desire of his fantasies. These characteristics are similar in many other famous Serial Killers before him, like Albert DeSalvo, Ted Bundy, and David Berkowitz. Lots of psychologists, criminologists, and scientists searched to answer the question of why Serial Killers commit these crimes and how they became such violent human beings. What is left are two thoughts: are Serial Killers born with predetermined genes that play an integral part in creating their murderous tendencies, or do Serial Killers become murderous through their surroundings as children? Though it is important to understand how killers become such vicious individuals it is critical to understand what defines a serial killer and what makes them so incredibly different from other murderers.

Research Review

Back in 2000, a report that was published by Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, compared the brain scans of more than five hundred people between those who had been convicted of murder and those who were considered to have a normal level of self-control and stability. The study found that the brain scans of those who had been convicted of a murder with aggressive or antisocial disorders showed more overactive brain activity compared to those who were considered ‘normal’. If this study is correct, then these murderers must have been born with an entirely different genetic makeup than that of those in the majority of the population who are not violent or think violent thoughts. These brain scans showed a relationship between the orbital frontal cortex, the anterior cingulated cortex, and the amygdale – which all play a large part in the control of negative and violent emotions. The orbital frontal cortex has been found to control and regulate the impulse of emotional outbursts, the anterior cingulated cortex was found to deal with responses to conflict, and the amygdale is known to control the reactions to fear. (Ramsland, 2005). All of these parts of the brain were all shown to be overactive and this study proves that there is evidence to say that Serial Killers are a product of Nature.

Serial Killers may be influenced by the culture that they are surrounded by, but those who can control their thoughts do not have control over the reactions to ideas that are part of their DNA. If it is possible to diagnose these genetic defects early, children can be treated and watched to make sure that the increase in emotional tendencies does not become uncontrollable; causing them to hurt those around them. ‘We have accepted as proper for sociological study the environment external to the human person; perhaps we now should consider appropriate the environment internal to the person, not just the social psychological environment’ (Jeffrey, 1979).

In the publication of ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’ in 1920, Freud came up with two theories about the aggression in which humans express. Creating two different and opposing instincts, Freud came up with the death and the life instinct. The death instinct is that of destructive behaviour towards the society around them. What Freud had found that led him to the theory of the death instinct was that those he had studied, who had experienced unpleasant experiences, kept repeating those experiences even though they were still unpleasant. Opposite of that is the life instinct in which Freud believes that people try to maintain a better life and try to achieve bigger goals for themselves. Born with these aggressive and destructive traits, Serial Killers go onto commit these horrific crimes even though they know most of the time that it is wrong (Abel, 1989).

Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, had always been intoxicated before committing a murder because his consciousness knew that what he was doing was wrong. Freud hits the nail on the head that those with destructive behaviour tend to repeat the same actions over and over again, I believe that Serial Killers qualify for only a fraction of this theory. Though Serial Killers repeatedly commit the same acts of destruction and violence it is not a totally pleasing experience for them, for example, when Dahmer committed his first murder at the age of eighteen he began drinking heavily because when he wasn’t drunk he knew that what he was doing was unacceptable and he shouldn’t be doing it. Though he knew what he was doing was wrong but he still felt pleasure from committing such a horrible act of violence because it fulfilled all of his wants and desires.

Main Body

A large distinction that separates Serial Killers from other murderers are their motives to kill. Normally murders are committed due to disputes that range from family affairs, gang violence, financial difficulties to disputes between lovers and between friends. ‘A serial killer, I should make clear, is not a regular murderer. A murderer has a vendetta, a nice specific personal thing against his victim’ (Corin, 2004). Unlike that of a ‘normal’ murder, not that any murder can be seen as normal, Serial Killers are driven by instinct and a desire to kill. Due to these desires and the need to fulfil their fantasies, often drives these individual to murder those who are complete strangers. Though Serial Killers only make up for one percent of murderers, nearly a dozen account for one hundred to two hundred murders yearly.



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