What’s on a serial killer’s mind: an exploratory study

The world of humans is oftentimes unpredictable, changing and wondrously exciting. However, when these attributes become extremely bizarre and painfully detrimental, humans become sick and worried about to what extent can other humans afford to inflict harm against them. Serial killers and the deeds they do, are perceived as people whose acts of killing can only be described as , if not the most, one of the most gruesome acts anybody can commit. It is believed that humans, like newborn birds and mammals in general, have the natural capacity to bond with their mothers.

This natural capacity has since been called “imprinting,” the instinctual behavior of an infant where the child establishes a pattern based on the environment. The solemn responsibility of being parents to a child is grave, and the consequences are immense should they fail in any of the areas of parenthood. On the contrary, when it comes to deliberately hurting a child, or causing damage to their psyche’ as a person, the term “failure” would not be adequate or appropriate to describe its effects.

Whether abusing or neglecting a small person, studies reveals that the results are almost the same: the destructive effects are colossal and prevailing for almost all of the rest of the child’s life. Infants, in their earliest stage learn from the environment provided to them and respond/bond accordingly. This theory was taken from ethologist Konrad Lorenz and then expanded on by John Bowlby, a British research scientist who is considered to be the founder of attachment theory (Reebye et al, at www.

ttachmentacrosscultures. org). The relationship between the infant and the caregiver is particularly important and critical to the healthy emotional development of the child (http://articles. syl. com/attachmentparentinggroupsisthissomethingnew. html). This paper takes a slightly different approach for an essay. It will provide a precis on what attachment is but will present “pictures” of situations or scenarios with which possible dire results for the lack of the fulfillment of the need during the early stages will lead.

Illustrations of real life situations paint theories and their implications better, hence the use of articles that show the importance of this study by Bowlby. This is through cases or researches such as when mothers become disordered or when children or adolescents become menaces to society and where basic attachment or bonding needs were deprived during their foundational growing up years. Understanding mental health: The majority of theories and models of human behavior fall into one of two basic categories: internal perspective and external perspective.

Also read: History of abnormal psychology

The internal perspective considers the factors inside the person to understand behavior. People who subscribe to this view understand behavior as psychodynamically oriented. Behavior is explained in terms of the thoughts, feelings, past experiences and needs of the individual. The internal processes of thinking, feeling, perceiving and judging lead people to act in specific ways. This internal perspective implies that people are best understood from the inside and that people’s behavior is best interpreted after understanding their thoughts and feelings (Jourad, 1963).

The other category of theories takes an external perspective. This focuses on factors outside the person to understand behavior. External events, consequences of behavior, environmental forces to which a person is subject, are emphasized by this external perspective. A person’s history, value system, feelings and thoughts are not very important in interpreting actions and behavior. Kurt Lewin for instance considered both perspectives in saying that behavior is a function of both the person and the environment (Tiffin, & McCormick, 1958).

Man is a social being and as such his personality is viewed from the society and culture where he belongs. A society represents a geographical aggregate and has boundaries, similar government or a group of persons in meaningful interaction and engaged in social relationship. Personality is the individualizing traits of man which constitute his singularity and differentiate him from any other human being. The three determinants of personality: 1] biological heritage which has direct influence on the development of personality. This includes musculature, the nervous system, and the glands; 2] E.

Q. factor describes qualities like understanding one’s feelings, empathy for the feelings of others, and the “regulation of emotion in a way that enhances living (Gibbs, 1995);” 3] environmental factors. Taking everything normal, environment plays an important role in personality development. Environmental factors are cultural environment, social environment, home and family, culture, status and role and social agent. Many of men’s pronounced stirred-up state of mind such as fear, anger, disgust, and contempt, have posed the question, why?

What has caused such a reaction? What has brought a change to his/her behavior? What is the frustration that has brought about such behavior? In the world of a suicide bomber, he/she contemplates on various input or stimuli from the world he/she evolves in. There are frustrations of every form and even without these, his/her psyche or mental state functions on the basis of anything he/she receives (actively or passively) from the milieu. Life’s problems are numerous and as long as one is alive and kicking he will always be faced with problems, be they big or small.

Such problems stir-up one’s emotions or feelings which maybe pleasant or unpleasant. Physiological problems, environmental problems, personal deficiencies and psychological concerns bring on a variety of responses; some predictable, others are not. Disorganization of family life, disintegration of personality brought about by depression, great personal suffering, any of these may take any person beyond the limits of his tolerance. Man is born in a social environment surrounded by cultural norms and values.

He is faced with cultural taboos and acceptable social behavior. Numerous environmental factors come to the fore which may or may not be easily overcome. One of the most difficult problems in this area is one’s cultural dos and don’t s. Environmental frustrations cannot be avoided, for there are always certain factors in a person’s growth and achievement. Psychological or internal problems are the most difficult to resolve as they are within the inner feelings of a person. One may not be able to detect his/her concerns/anxieties through his /her overt behavior.

It may only be inferred from what his/her inner thoughts and feelings are but will not know what caused such a feeling. Psychological concerns of various forms represent a more serious threat to the personality of the individual than do environmental pressures. If severe enough, they may create considerable emotional tension with accompanying behavior disorders. Reacting to pressures and other concerns such as frustration varies from person to person because of their personality differences. These reactions maybe defensive, neurotic or psychotic.

Most people are sympathetic to people who develop physical ailments, but regard an individual with mental disorder as “crazy. ” At this juncture, does a serial killer then be considered a person with a mental disorder or deemed as “crazy? ” Definitions of mental health vary considerably. Freud when asked what he thought a normal, healthy person should do well replied “love and work. ” Karl Menninger’s (1956) definition is quite similar to Freud’s. When we therefore, try to define mental health, we have in mind the adjustment process which an individual brings into force when he is faced with a problem situation.

Adjustment is defined as an individual’s manner of reacting or responding adequately to a perceived problem. From the standpoint of mental health, adjustment refers to a happy and socially acceptable response to life’s situations. Mental health therefore, is the ability of the individual to function effectively and happily as a person in one’s expected role in a group and in the society in general. It is a condition of the whole personality and is not merely a condition of the “mind” as is often supposed.

It is an out-growth of one’s total life and is promoted or hindered by day-to-day experience, not only by major crises as some assume (McCllelland et al, 1973). Mental health is the capacity to live harmoniously in a changing environment; to face and solve one’s problems in a realistic manner; to accept the inevitable, and to understand and accept one’s own shortcomings as well as the shortcomings of others. In this sense, people who develop sordid taste for plotting against somebody on he intends to end that person’s life can only be described as deviant and evil (Jourad, 1963).

Mental health is a matter of degree. There is no hard and fast line that separates health from illness. It is not a simple matter to divide the population into two distinct groups-those who should be institutionalized and those who should not be. Many of us at one time or another exhibit traits and pattern of behavior which if, accentuated and continuous, would necessitate psychiatric care (Jourad, 1963). Though radical a thought this may seem, and naturally sounds unrealistic, the ideal place is to set monitoring and evaluation of mental hygiene at some point in time.

How to do this is going to be a big issue, expectedly. Discussion A. Background study: Parenting Style and Attachment As soon as infancy stage, babies want to relate and therefore need someone to relate to them. Because a mother is the first in the order of relationships in the life of an infant, it is important that this first relationship is secured for the child. Almost anything in the child’s future will be determined by the quality of the relationship the infant has had with the mother. What are these different parenting styles?

Since around the 1920s developmental psychologists were already keen on how development of children’s behavior evolved. The parenting styles were pointed out as influential to these behaviors. Basically, there were four types: Indulgent Parents, Authoritarian Parents, Authoritative Parents, And Uninvolved Parents (Darling, 1999). The primary characteristics involved in categorizing were the parents’ “parental demandingness and responsiveness. ” However, upon examination, these styles include details such as parental values, their practices and other behaviors. Indulgent parenting style is commonly identified as permissive or non-directive type. This type is characterized mainly a more responsive attitude rather than a demanding one. Parents like these tend to be lenient and non-confrontative.

Children are likely to become immature and irresponsible under parents with this style (Darling, 1999). – Authoritarian parenting style on the other hand, lack responsive and tend to be more demanding. Children are raised in an atmosphere of “command and obey” cycle or one that is well-ordered and structured (Darling, 1999). Authoritative parenting style is characterized by both the “demanding and responsive” polarities. This means that not only do parents with this style of approach provide structure and order, they also are responsive; which means that they make sure that the system or manner of discipline imposed does not punish the children but encourages them, establishing good conduct as a result. The parents are usually assertive, though non-restrictive (Darling, 1999). – Uninvolved parenting style offers both a non-demanding and less responsive environment.

With this style, they create an atmosphere of “neglect and rejection. ” As Darling says based on the Baumrind study, “because parenting style is a typology, rather than a linear combination of responsiveness and demandingness, each parenting style is more than and different from the sum of its parts” (Darling, 1999 in Baumrind 1991). The effects of parenting styles on attachment relationship of children and their parents The aforementioned styles are built on and support the attachment theory of Bowlby. Each parenting style affects the future of children.

Studies confirm these conclusions, thereby showing a predictive pattern that parenting styles influence the children’s prospective adult life (Ainsworth and Berkeley studies in Reebye et al review at www. attachmentacrosscultures. org). Hence, it is safe to say that parenting styles and attachment are synonymous and both are predictors of child well-being especially on social competence, academic performance, psychosocial development and problem behavior. B. Illustration: A case of Reactive Attachment Disorder

The article by Hanson and Spratt (2000) gives in-depth information on the issue of Reactive Attachment Disorder where the heart of the maladaptive behavior is the maltreatment of children. It attempts to give a very balanced look on the etiology of the disorder, the many sides that are considered to be legitimate in the scientific community which are constantly updating on cases with RAD. The article is certainly very adequate in its presentation; it does not attempt to simplify the problems that are commonly found among children severely abused especially by their own parents and caregivers.

Rather it tries to argue on several issues that might provide a greater possible rationale why this disorder arises among children. The authors point out that evidence shows that “pathogenic care” accounts for most of the cases of the development of RAD. I would like to point out important items that are mentioned in the article. These are the factors that are important considerations that concern the disorder. These are under the etiology of RAD. Aside from pathogenic care which, obviously, is one of the primary factors; “parental risk factors” is an eye-opener.

Why an eye-opener? Not only when the parents have severely neglected or abused the child is the latter at high risk not only for physical harm but mental and emotional/ psychological harm, there is more to the care that is the issue. Social health factors – the fact that parents may be very young and at the adolescent stage in particular, or if the parents (or maybe one of them) are drug dependents and the children are solemn witnesses to the goings on; all are critical to the molding of the child’s mental and emotional aspects.

One’s heart would just break imagining kids (as pointed out in the paper) who have increased possibility of developing “disorganized attachment” because they were reared by parents with DV (domestic violence) as a prevailing occurrence in the household. In addition, developmental issue, such as whether infants were maltreated or when maltreatment had occurred in the later childhood phase matter a lot to the consequent effects of disorder.

This is food for thought especially to mothers who think they can make it up in the latter years when they feel okay. What is more startling is that another factor, the “biological factors” emphasized the impact of trauma (not just to mention the physical one) on the changes that a child undergoes in the neurobiological level. Absorbing the detailed description of the studies made mention by the author on what they call as “pruning of specific neurologic pathways” and that which specifically influence the affect or emotional bearing of the child.

No wonder some children never can overcome these effects especially when they reach adulthood when stresses compound and those ‘pathways” may no longer be able to bear up the crisis that had arrived into their lives. Neglectful parents who semi-abandon their children in the streets or to the care of people who just don’t care or may abuse them think that they have never hurt their children. Others think of their kids as properties or objects meant to be thrown, poked at, or do just about anything to them.

Only proper insights to cases like RAD (and its many nuances) can any practitioner effectively give or apply interventions. A comprehensive and wide knowledge on developmental issues among children, having the proper theoretical perspectives, a balanced ideation on many of these concepts, as well as a mature appreciation of family systems is a must in this kind of work. In many of the studies made children raised in an uninvolved parenting style, perform poorly in mostly all of the domains mentioned above (i. e. social competence etc. ).

The degree of attachment can best be seen in the result of either a poor or good performance in these specific areas. The following illustration helps elucidate this connection of attachment/parenting style in and through their effects or influence among the said domains: Source: Reebye et al, at www. attachmentacrosscultures. org/research. In other words, when parents become responsive or showing more attachment, children can become socially competent and psychosocially functioning whereas when parents show less attachment or become unresponsive, children tend to be indifferent and less involved.

They have the potential to have lesser behavioral control and possibly exhibit problems in academic performance and social compliance. Delinquent children usually come from a background of difficult circumstances. Parental alcoholism, poverty, breakdown of family, abusive conditions in the home, death of parents during armed conflicts or drug overdose, and the HIV/AIDS scourge, and etc. are some of the various reasons that can leave children virtually orphaned.

One or both parents may be physically present, but because of irresponsibility on their part (if even one of them is addicted to drugs or alcoholic), a child may grow developing certain ways and attitudes that are directly/indirectly caused by the parent/s addiction or drug-related behavior. In this case, true delinquency lies on the parents; and the children are, in a way, orphaned or unaccompanied, and without any means of subsistence which, in the first place, the parents’ fundamental responsibility to provide.

Generally, and increasingly, these children are born and/or raised without a father. They are first in the line of those who are at greatest risk of falling into juvenile delinquency. Without noticing it as it is typical of any youth to be lacking in prudence, with newly embraced group, the gang, a corresponding subculture starts to assimilate them, and before long, they start to engage in activities of adult criminal groups.

It is usually after being engaged in criminal activities for an extended period of time with its accompanying consequences (such as ending up in prison or rehabilitation institutions for drug addicts) that delinquents realize they are into a very dangerous zone. A large portion of all juvenile violations (between two-thirds and three-quarters) are perpetrated by youths who are members of certain gangs (Venkatesh, 1997). Children who are well taken care of by their parents and are thus adequately supervised are at less odds to be involved in criminal activities.

Studies have proven that. A dysfunctional family, on the other hand, which is commonly characterized by regular conflicts, parental negligence, poor communication because of absorption to outside activities by parents, are always assumed to be the breeding ground for deviants (Venkatesh, 1997). ~Studies on Risk versus Protective Factors An insightful paper prepared by Resnick describes the theoretical viewpoint that risk and protective factors are two things that may “mirror” each other.

Risk factors like low academic performance increases the possibility of child or youth’s involvement in activities that may harm themselves and others while protective factors such as high academic performance increases the likelihood also of the individual committing aggression against another. These factors reside in an individual and that a disproportion of one especially the “risk factors” over the other indicates a caution or warning; the person may traverse in a direction which may foster a tendency to exhibit aggression or violent behavior.

In the study, identifying these balance or imbalance within individuals may help reduce the occurrence of school violence by early detection of symptoms thus, interventions may be employed coming from various strategic points like the home, and the school and the community (Resnick, 2004). According to the Laub (1998), the home and the school are milieus that importantly direct the development of aggression or violence. Aggression at home significantly reflects what may eventually occur as aggression or violence in school, though not always.

Male students attack peers or other male students. In addition, teachers are hurt either by verbal abuse, physical injury or threats of aggression. Fights that commonly occur in the campuses relate to “possession of toys, equipment and/or territory, about retaliation, & rules of games” (Laub, 1998). ~Nature of Violence or Aggression “From very early, the oxygen of the criminal’s life is to seek excitement by doing the forbidden. “-S. Samenow

A radical turn from the contemporary to classical rationalizations on violent behavior equivalent to possessing a criminal mind, Stanton Samenow offered a quite “sweeping” point of view based on what he calls “errors of thinking. ” Whereas years spent in studying and treating adolescence clinical disorders, he had leaned upon the understanding that adolescents, criminal behavior and/or violence in general have social determinants as a major factor, this change of mind was brought about by a collaborative work with another practitioner Dr. Yochelson (Genre,http://www. criminology. fsu. edu/crimtheory/samenow. htm). Conclusion and implications Essentially, the role of motivation in a person’s life is crucial to the understanding of human activities. Motivation is never static because in life, there always presents a dynamic and changing pattern of needs. Internal and external motivation provides in brief, an astute way of explaining the “why’s” of people’s behaviors. No wonder then, that in general, educators handle pupils or learners in the light of this ideation.

In the nature of serial killing, the processes and/or dynamics involved there have something to do with motivation. It springs from a deficient background fueling certain kinds of deviance and abnormality in the patterns of thinking, perception and an aberration or skewness of pleasure and satisfaction. It is also at this level that programs that initiate positive change and transformation must also be confronted and addressed. Close and intentional parenting is absolutely a critical aspect in the deterrence and arrest of the potentially malfunctioning individual.


Darling, Nancy, 1999. Parenting Style and Its Correlates. ERIC Digest. Accessed in www.ericdigests.org. Last accessed on April 22, 2009.

Hanson. Rochelle F. and Eve G. Spratt (2000). “Reactive Attachment Disorder: What we know about the disorder and implications for treatment.” Child Maltreatment, Vol. 5, No.2., pp. 137-145.

Jourad, Sydney (1963). Personal Adjustment. 2nd Ed. New York: MacMillan Company.

Kolb, David & Ralph K. Schwitzgebel (1974). Changing Human Behavior: Principles of Planned Intervention. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

McCllelland, David C. & R.S. Steele (1973). Human Motivation: A Book of Readings. Morristown, New Jersey, General Learning Press.

Menninger, Karl in Taylor, David (2003). The concept of mental health in children. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Steinkopff. Volume 12, Number 3. Pp.107-113.

Miller, W. B. & Zarcone, V. (1968) Psychiatric behaviour disorders at an international airport. Archives of Environmental Health, 17, 360 -365.

Reebye, PN, Ross, SE, Jamieson K. A Literature Review of Child-parent/Caregiver Attachment Theory and Cross-Cultural Practices influencing Attachment. Last accessed in the internet on April 22, 2009, www.attachmentacrosscultures.org/research/html. ___________ http://articles.syl.com/attachmentparentinggroupsisthissomethingnew.html.

Silke, A. (2003). The psychology of suicide terrorism. In Terrorists, Victims and Society (ed. A. Silke), pp. 93 -108. Chichester: Wiley.

Tiffin, Joseph and Ernest McCormick J. (1958). Industrial psychology. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.

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