Serial killers have been roaming around this world since the 18th century, this is when the first known serial killer in America was discovered in Chicago, he was known as the “beast of Chicago” but his name was Herman Webster Mudgett, and he confessed to 27 murders. He himself mainly supports the idea of nature rather than nurture because he was raised in a privileged household and truly had no motive to kill his victims. Now, in the United States alone, approximately 3,000 people have been found to be serial killers and all together have killed around 10,000 human beings. Researchers have found that people start to kill either because of their surroundings or because of their genetics, but to what extent do psychologist truly believe that genetics play a role in one who has become a serial killer. The intent of this investigation is to identify whether psychologist would debate against nature or nurture, in the nature vs. nurture debate. Psychologists believe that genetics play a role in serial killers to a limited extent. The nature vs. nurture debate can be applied to this topic and many psychologists will argue against nature and express their opinion being that the environment an individual has grown up in is the main cause for those who have become serial killers.
The Debate and Killers
The Nature vs. Nurture debate is a debate on whether the behavior of an individual is derived from the environment (nurture), meaning relationships and living conditions or by a person’s genes (nature). This debate can be applied to the topic of serial killers and can be argued in either side. Nature can be seen as inherited, even though people can’t truly say people are born serial killers, while nurture is seen as acquired. The reason this debate can be applied in this topic is that some researchers have reason to believe that some serial killer’s genetics is what made them into what they are because they grew up in a loving family, while other researchers have found that most serial killers have gone through a traumatic event. With information that supports both sides of the debate, people do not know which side is truly correct, but researchers do tend to lean more on the nature side of the debate rather than nurture because investigators have provided more evidence which supports the idea of nature.
Many psychologists have conducted experiments on serial killers and many have found different findings. Some have found that some serial killers grew up in a supportive home and the only other possible component that may have contributed to an individual must be his or her genes. Other researchers have discovered that the greatest component is the environment a person has grown up in. Research is constantly being done on each serial killer that has been caught and arrested and some research is more valuable than others because not every killer wants to cooperate with the police or with journalists. But for the ones who did cooperate, interesting findings have been discovered about them. Research has suggested that most serial killers have either gone through physical abuse, drug abuse, or alcohol abuse, while little serial killers grew up in a loving and caring household.
The United States has had a number of individuals who are believed to have become serial killers for a number of reasons. Serial killers who are believed to have inherited a gene include David Richard Berkowitz also known as the Son of Sam, Albert Fish, and the Zodiac Killer. Serial killers who have acquired the characteristics that lead to aggressive behavior include Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy. Each of these serial killers will be investigated because there has been some research done on them and most of these serial killers have been voted as the world’s most notorious killers meaning many people have heard of these names.
Nature and the Supporting Serial Killers
Some serial killers are born with certain genes and traits which lead people to believe these are signs of them becoming killers or wanting to kill. Monoamine oxidase, a MAOA gene which is also known as the “warrior gene” is the most common denominator in a criminal’s mind. MAOA prevents the individual from obtaining high levels of aggression. This ‘warrior gene’ controls the making of a protein that breaks down brain-signaling chemicals like dopamine, noradrenalin, and serotonin, which all influence mood. Because of this, people tend to also call this gene the “psychopath gene” even though it is a very controversial name for the gene. Another trait that is common in serial killers, mainly females is Munchausen syndrome by proxy, which is a mental health problem marked by attention-seeking behavior by a caregiver. These caregivers tend to make up injuries, but for the serial killers, they tended to actually cause harm to the person in their care for attention and because those that they were looking after were vulnerable which made it easy for them.
This mental health disorder has been researched and researchers suggest that many biological factors are involved. After investigations, many started to notice that genetics do play a role in serial killers which lead Adrian Raine to be the first ever person to perform a brain imaging study on murderers, his research has convinced him that while there is a social and environmental element to violent behavior, there’s also another side to all of this and that side is biology. Now that there has been advances in brain imaging technology, researchers have been able to identify differences in the brain activity of serial killers and non serial killers. Studies show that the prefrontal cortex of a serial killer is typically developed when compared to that of the control group of non serial killers. We do not know to what extent you can be “born” a serial killer of the monstrous kind, but we do know that many brutal serial killers have an antisocial personality disorder and what most serial killers have in common is the number 1 trait of psychopathy, which is a lack of empathy.
David Richard Berkowitz was a man who grew up with a loving adopted family who always supported him. David was a very quiet and nice man, so when the news came out that he was a serial killer it came as a surprise to many. Researchers wondered how this man who grew up in such a loving home turned out to be a psychopath. Researchers couldn’t find the biological factors from his biological family that contributed greatly to his behavior, but knew that he had some sort of violent connection in his genes. While it is a leap to make such a strong assumption, it is perspicuous that the nurturing he received from his adopted parents could not have played a part in the killer he became.