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Serial killers have caught the attention of many professionals within the law
enforcement and psychology communities, as well as common citizens through true
crime books and other media. This paper is to present the serial killer from a biological,
psychological, and social standpoint. The biopsychosocial method is explained and
applied to criminal behavior to provide the reader with an idea of how a serial killer
develops. Personality theories and their relation to crime are briefly discussed. To do
this, first we have to understand a serial killer as a person and what has led them to the
point of killing. See the relationship that each theory and how they can complement to
create a serial murderer.


The FBI originally defined serial murder as involving at least three events that take
place at different locations and are separated by a cooling-off period.
All psycho serial murderer is an individual who suffers from an antisocial personality
disorder, in order words suffers of a psychopath, which makes it behave in certain and
defined its core behavior throughout their lives.They are generally male and motivated
by a variety of psychological urges, primarily power. The United States Bureau of
Justice Statistics defines a serial killing as: "[involving] the killing of several victims in
three or more separate events."


Serial killers arent a new thing. It is only fairly recently, however, those serial killers
have been broken down into different types based on their motivations for killing. These
include those that are motivated by anger, by financial gain, by psychosis, and by a need
for power. There are also serial killers that commit their murders based on ideology,
inclusion in a criminal organization, or because of a sexual need. There are, of course,
cases that fall between the cracks or hit multiple areas, and these categories certainly are
not 100 percent complete or absolute.
An anger-motivated serial killer is one thats driven by an intense hatred of a group of
people. This anger can be based on religion, gender, lifestyle, or race, and could be
fueled by something from a life-changing event to the irrational development of racist
views. Some profiles also call this type a mission serial killer, as they believe it is
their purpose in life to rid the world of a certain type of person.
Ideology can also be a very powerful motivator for some types of serial killers. These
are the people that also tend to target a single group of people, but its to further their
own cause and ideals rather than to rid the world of a very specific type of person, as in
anger-motivated killings. Terrorist groups are often ideology-based.
Some serial killers are motivated by financial gain. These are the killers that ingratiate
themselves into a household, and then perhaps kill for their inheritance, and theyre the
ones that take out insurance policies then kill to receive their payoff. Robberyhomicides are also an example of crimes with a financially motivated serial killer. These
killers are also known as comfort-oriented serial killers, and many female serial killers
fall into this category.

Some serial killers commit murder because theyre driven to do so by their own
psychosis or mental illness. Also called visionary serial killers, they often suffer from
delusions and hallucinations, thinking that something is telling them to commit murder.
These are the serial killers that are usually found incompetent to stand trial, as they
often truly believe that demons, gods, or other otherworldly influences are pushing
Power or thrill killers simply do it for the rush. These people are often aware that
theyre going against whats socially acceptable, but the feel of power and domination is
too great for them to pass up. Sometimes the dominance can take on a sexual aspect, but
here its more about the feeling of power than about the actual act itself.
There are also those that kill because of their own perverse sexual desires. Unlike power
or thrill killers, its about the act instead of the power that it imparts to them over their
victim. In some cases, this might not even be reflected clearly in the crime scene, and it
may only be later, at home or in an environment they feel is safe, that they can fulfill
their fantasies.


Biological Approaches
There are various biological explanations for serial murder. Firstly, it shall first look
into chromosomal abnormalities, specifically the condition of having an extra Y
chromosome (XYY), and trying to link this with criminal behavior. Secondly, head
trauma is discussed in terms of whether it can result in aggressive and violent actions.
Third, biochemical explanations are explored, considering whether an imbalance in
hormones, blood sugar or serotonin can have an effect upon our aggressive and violent
tendencies (Heydari et al., 2008). However, this sub-section takes into consideration the
foundations of this perspective lie within the work of Cesare Lombrose. For instance, in
what is perhaps considered to be Lombrosos most talked about work, he argues,
criminals represent a physical type distinct from non-criminals. Said to represent a form
of degeneracy apparent in physical characteristics suggestive of earlier forms of
evolutionary life, they are atavistic, throwbacks to earlier forms of evolutionary life.
Heydari et al. (2008) notes what Lombroso sees as distinctive criminal features: (a)
Asymmetry of the face; (b) Unusual sized ears, sometimes standing out/small in size;
(c) Unusual nose shape e.g. twisted / flattened. Murderers are noted to have a beak like
nose (d) Protruding lips.
There are a number of criticisms that have been directed at Lombrosos work. To
Lombroso, women are virtually invisible within the criminal world. He views only
abortion and prostitution as criminal, believing sexual nature to be the reason as to why
women engage in prostitution, ignoring the fact that much of the time, it is for financial
gain. At the present day, most view Lombrosos work to be simple and lack in

complexity. Nonetheless, Lombroso made numerous valuable contributions to

criminology, such as guiding the study towards a more scientific approach (Keppel
Birnes, 2003).
Silvio et al. in 2006 wrote how Lombrosos systematic study of criminal physiognomy
sought to aid society by identifying criminals. It could be argued that Lombrosos work
influenced many other scientists and captured the popular imagination; although today
largely discredited as a science, the ideas Lombroso wrote about retain a hold on
popular culture. To sum up this sub-section, we are now aware that there are various
biological explanations for violence and serial murder. Sub-section also demonstrates a
shift from rather simplified theories and explanations, to those which are more complex.
Saying this, Lombrosos work should be put into context, taking into consideration the
methods of research available at the time of study. The more recent theories do present a
valuable insight into the biological explanations of violent / criminal behavior, with
some of the concepts offering successful explanations for such behaviors among small
groups of offenders.
Psychological Approaches
The psychological component of the biopsychosocial perspective refers to internal
psychological processes that take place during a person's development. From birth we
are born with certain traits and temperaments that reflect how we will act, feel, and
think our whole lives. Personality disorders, learned values, morals, psychopathological
processing, and other psychological disorders can contribute to criminal behavior
(Cassel & Bernstein, 2007). For many criminals, a lack of self esteem builds as the
result of little to no warmth or genuine care from the caregivers. More about familial
influences will be covered in the Social section. Some specific disorders that are present

with serial murder cases are antisocial personality disorder, voyeurism, fetishism,
sadism, masochism, necrophilia, and other disorders displaying narcissistic qualities.
Antisocial personality disorder (APD) is common among serial killers. This behavior
includes lack of empathy or guilt for other peoples misfortunes, shallow interpersonal
relationships, spontaneous behavior, insincerity, and lying (Sue, Sue, & Sue, 2006).
Schlesinger (1998) argues that serial killers reflect more of a borderline personality
disorder (BPD) and should be looked at more carefully when diagnosing.
Personality Theories and Crime
There are two major personality theories when it comes to crime; psychodynamics and
behavioral/learning. In the psychodynamic theory, Sigmund Freud (as cited by
Hergenhahn & Olsen, 2007; Cassell & Bernstein, 2007) attempts to explain away
deviant acts by blaming the id, or what Freud thought of as our very core driving force
that seeks out immediate satisfaction for our deepest emotions, desires, impulses, lusts,
etc. Gone unchecked, the id could lead to behavior outside of the realm of societal
norms which is based on control of impulsive desires. One thing that helps keeps the id
in check is the ego. This is the ability to reason what is and is not acceptable and to
make a judgment about what actions to take based on this reasoning. The ego has the
ability to control the id by ways of reasoning and rationalizing using reality and
applying societal rules and norms also known as superego. Superego is any rule, learned
behavior, experiences, etc. The superego and ego counteract id and suppress impulsive
outbursts or any other violation of what is acceptable. For serial killers, it can be argued
that the id has taken control by either the id being too powerful or the ego and super ego
being too weak.

The behavioral and learning theories on criminal behavior, unlike the subjective nature
of the psychodynamic theory, can be tested for validity using more scientific methods.
The founder of behaviorism, John Watson (1925), believed that human behavior is
shaped by environmental and social factors, especially learning, which is defined as a
change to preexisting behavior or mental process as a result of experience (Cassel &
Bernstein, 2008). Operant conditioning introduced by B. F. Skinner is a principle based
on the impact of reward and punishment. Using the basis of these theories, it is
suggested that a serial killer is molded by their environment through social learning
experiences and reinforcements.
Sociological Approaches
The social perspective is different from the other two components because it does not
work off of internal processes but rather external ques. It refers to the social factors such
as religion, culture, socioeconomic class, ethnicity, and other spheres of influence.
Social influences such as aggressive role models, violent media, politics of low
socioeconomic neighborhoods, and environmental factors have an effect on crime. A
child raised in a dysfunctional family with the presence of alcohol, drugs, criminal
activity, or violence is more likely to engage in the same behavior (Cassel & Bernstein,
2007). One third of offenders are themselves abused. Family dynamics and parenting
styles can leave the child subject to undefined guidelines and little supervision. These
environmental and social factors mixed with psychological dysfunction can lead to
deviant behavior.


In most cases of serial killers there is a disturbance somewhere in childhood that leaves
a permanent imprint on their life. Applying the biopsychosocial method can help
explain how a serial killer got to the point of killing without regard. The link between
pleasure and pain associated with these types of offenders seems to start somewhere in
adolescence. Its considered normal for boys to be inquisitive about bugs and small
animals like squirrels and mice. It would even be considered normal if they killed one to
see what would happen. Thats a normal part of learning about consequences. Mix this
with the sexual hormones and little supervision, and all of a sudden a different
pathology is created. This is just one example of how the door to serial killing can be
opened. It appears that there has to be certain variables lined up to create the
psychopathology of a sadistic serial killer and that there is a different set of variable for
every different person. Although there are similar identifying qualities between serial
killers, each one has a different fantastic motive. Despite professionals of the
psychological field and the officials of the law enforcement community have worked to
put together some rhyme or reason behind serial murders by categorizing and typifying
serial murder cases. As investigated whether a relationship exists enter the biologics,
psychological and social factors that encourage a person to kill, however to it has been
shown that up just a factor of these biopsychosocial components can also induce a
person to commit such crimes. I conclude that a serial killer is the product of a
combination of biological, psychological and social factors.


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Cassel, E., & Bernstein, D. (2007). Criminal Behavior (2nd ed.). Mahwah, New Jersey:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc
Heydari, E., Arzani, N. and Hassanzadeh, J. (2008). Mantle plume: the invisible serial
killer: application to the permian-triassic boundary mass extinction, Palaeogeography,
Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 264(1-2), 147-162.
Keppel, R. D. and Birnes, W. J. (2003). The archetypal serial killer task force
investigation: the Yorkshire ripper case, The Psychology of Serial Killer Investigations,
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