Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Personality Disorders of Serial Killers

        Serial killers suffer from antisocial personality disorder, but then again, so do several million people in the United States.  The most extreme killers fall under the sociopathic or psychopathic personality disorder classification like Ted Bundy for example.  By definition antisocial personality disorder is a chronic mental illness that affects the way a person thinks, perceives situations and relates to others. (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2008)  According to Mayo Clinic, symptoms of antisocial personality disorder may include:
·         Disregard for right and wrong
·         Persistent lying or deceit
·         Using charm or wit to manipulate others
·         Recurring difficulties with the law
·         Repeatedly violating the rights of others
·         Child abuse or neglect
·         Intimidation of others
·         Aggressive or violent behavior
·         Lack of remorse about harming others
·         Impulsive behavior
·         Agitation
·         Poor or abusive relationships
Jeffrey Dahmer is a great example of a serial killer who exhibited antisocial personality disorder tendencies.  The Mayo Clinic states that personality is formed during childhood and is shaped through an interaction of two factors.  Inherited Tendencies or a gene is the first factor.  Through inherited tendencies a person’s personality is passed on by parents such as shyness or simply having a happy outlook on life.  This is the thought to be the “nature” part of the nature vs. nurture debate.  The second factor is environment or life’s situations.  The surroundings in which a person is brought up, the events that occur throughout an individual’s life and the relationships the individual has with family members and others.  Environment deals with things like parenting experiences a child has and whether he or she was raised in a loving or abusive home.  This is the other side of the debate: “nurture”. (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2008) 
            Serial killers who are considered psychopathic or sociopathic for the most part never get overly attached to anyone or anything.  Experts today believe that sociopaths are an unfortunate fusion of interpersonal, biological, and socio-cultural disasters. (Scott, 2011)  These types of killers feel little to no regret and have little to no remorse, except maybe when they are finally caught by authorities.  Psychopaths need relationships for different reasons most of us do.  “They use people for stimulation, to build their self-esteem and they invariably value people in terms of their material value (money, property, etc…)” (“The Psychopathic Personality,” 2007)  Psychopaths are experts at manipulation and play on innocent people’s emotions.  One key sign you might be dealing with a psychopath is if their words do not match their emotions.  According to Dr. Hare there is no actual diagnosis of Psychopathy in both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) but it is a highly studied area. (“The Psychopathic Personality,” 2007)  Dr. Hare also states that there is a significant amount of evidence to suggest that:
·         there may be a genetic influence that creates a psychopathic personality
·         adult psychopaths do not benefit from traditional counseling therapy and may in fact  offend again and sooner because of it
·         the brain of a psychopath may function and process information differently from those of non-psychopaths
·         less intelligent psychopaths end up in prisons (highly intelligent psychopaths can run companies)
·         psychopathic behavior  may have once had a strong genetic “survival of the species” value
·         psychopathic personalities are much more common than most of us realize

(“The Psychopathic Personality,” 2007)  Ted Bundy was considered a psychopath who was quoted saying, “I just liked to kill, I wanted to kill.” (Scott, 2011) 
            For nearly 20 years, James Fallon, a neuroscientist at the University of California-Irvine has studied the brains of psychopaths.  Dr. Fallon’s specialty is figuring out how a killer’s brain is different from yours and mine.  Dr. Fallon decided to dig into this father’s relative’s history after a conversation he had with his 88 year old mother, Jenny.  Fallon recalls his mother insisting that he take a look into his father’s relatives because there were “some cuckoos back there.” (Hagerty, 2010)  Fallon immediately started investigating and discovered that there was an entire lineage of very violent people.  “One of his direct great-grandfathers, Thomas Cornell, was hanged in 1667 for murdering his mother. That line of Cornells produced seven other alleged murders, including Lizzy Borden. “Cousin Lizzy” as Fallon wryly calls her, was accused (and controversially acquitted) for killing her father and stepmother with an ax in Fall River, Mass., in 1882.” (Hagerty, 2010)  There is still a lot of research to be done to determine if genetics does indeed pass on the genes that produce serial killers or if personality disorders are the cause of producing serial killers. 


Hagerty, B.B. (2010, June 29). A Neuroscientist Uncovers A Dark Secret. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127888976

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2008, October 8). Antisocial Personality Disorder. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/antisocial-personality-disorder/DS00829
The Psychopathic Personality. (2007, May 20). Retrieved from http://www.oregoncounseling.org/Handouts/PsychopathicPersonality.htm
Scott, S.L. (2011, March). What Makes Serial Killers Tick? Retrieved from http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/notorious/tick/psych_6.html


  1. Very nice job. I like how you used lots of credible statistics, and facts. It helps to keep the readers attention when you use examples people probably know, like Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer. I still feel however that most of what anyone develops in terms of personality, comes from your environment and how you were raised by your parents. It is hard to tell because the lines of where you get your genes, and who raises you are usually the same.

  2. Thanks...:) Many people and research specialist still believe that the nature vs nurture theory has a lot to do with how we as individuals turn out in the end. My next blog will however challenge this theory with more science. Thanks for reading!

  3. Jeffrey Dahmer is a great example. His M.O. shows his inability to emotionally attach himself to any living being for fear of them leaving him. This is easily seen through the way that he carefully preserved his victims' bodies, caring for them as if they were living humans. Only individuals who suffer from extreme psychological issues could engage in this type of behavior. Interesting post!

  4. This is late, but Dahmer had borderline personality disorder. Some of the same traits as APD but not the same psychopathy.