Serial Killers: a Product of Nature Or Nurture

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 2083 |

Pages: 5|

11 min read

Published: Dec 16, 2021

Words: 2083|Pages: 5|11 min read

Published: Dec 16, 2021

The question of whether or not is predetermined at birth to lead a life of crime is a question that has been debated for decades. Nature and nurture is a hotly contested argument concerning what influences the behaviour and personality attributes of individuals. Nature is entirely dependent on the genetic combination of an individual which dictates their character and appearance. On the other hand, nurture is dependent on the environmental factors that an individual gets exposed to which end up shaping his or her personality. Nature and nurture influence individuals to a certain extent because individuals get exposed to both of them in one way or the other dictating their development process. I am going to argue that a lack of care during childhood and the events experience are the cause of serial killers, however I will also show examples where serial killer are not the product of bad experience and childhood.

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The word ‘serial killer’ or ‘serial murderer’ means murdering three or four victims for days, weeks, months, or even years with a ‘cooling time’ in between. Murders are typically unconnected, and the victim is a total stranger. The purpose is psychological, punishing the victims. Generally, murderers are sexually deviant, conducting their sexual fantasies with their victims. Many come from dysfunctional families and are ignored or abused as infants. That is why they pray on vulnerable victims including children, young women, prostitutes, and teenagers.

Nature’s theory states that behavioural traits are innate and present in human nature. Jeffery Dahmer, a notorious serial killer, reported to have been born with a part of him missing, might be related to as a possible explanation. Scientists supporting this theory claim that this unexplained behaviour causes brain damage, particularly to the frontal lobe or perhaps other genetic disorders. Damage to areas such as the frontal lobe, the hypothalamus, and the limbic system may lead to excessive anger, loss of control, decision impairment, and abuse. According to Rutigliano, ‘the frontal lobe is considered responsible for much of the activity that makes healthy, adequate social relations possible.’ Many scientists believe this part of our brain is our moral compass, which would have dystopic effects without this vital guidance. A research at four universities showed that people with frontal lobe damage had real-life irregular social feelings, lacking empathy. This is easily show by one of the world’s most know serial killers, Ted Bundy. He says “I don’t feel guilty for anything. I feel sorry for people who feel guilt.” However, other scientists suggested that if the limbic system is absent from inside the brain, it could lead to uncontrollable rage and hostility . This idea of a nature theory could provide possible explanations for John Wayne’s killing of 33 young males. When he was six, John Wayne Gacy Jnr was rendered unconscious by being beaten about the head by his father with a broomstick. Also, aged 11 years old, Gacy was accidentally struck on the forehead by a swing and caused a blood clot on the brain (but this wasn’t diagnosed until he was 16) and resulted in him blacking-out on numerous occasions, possibly aggravated by his congenital heart arrhythmia. Scientists who support the nature theory believe it is possible that this severe head injury caused his abnormal and violent behaviour.

However, there is an opposing theory of nurture. This theory differs from the other as it looks at the individual’s control of external influences during socialisation. These factors may include one’s family and how one’s parents had an effect on the child that may have resulted in psychological harm, producing a person who has different expectations and values than the rest of society, namely, serial killers live without a moral conscience. Serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas lost an eye at age 10 after it became infected due to a fight with his brother. A friend later described him as a child who would often get attention by displaying frighteningly strange behaviour. Lucas’ mother, a prostitute, would force him to watch her with her clients and make him cross-dress in public to attract customers. This type of behaviour could provide an explanation to why Lucas sexually abused his victims before killing them, lacking a moral conscience, and accepting this as the norm. Adults who were physically, sexually, and emotionally abused as children were three times more likely than non-abused adults to behave aggressively as this violence is a major factor in making men and women serial killers. The anger emerges and culminates in a series of dreadful sexual murders and intense, violent procedures. All of this is to repress years of defencelessness and humiliation when the serial killer was younger. They grow up without idealisation, where they struggle to develop an ego that is normally learned from their parent.

However, many people believe that the actions of a serial killer are simply too shocking to be excused for bad upbringing and cultural influences the opposing view can be identified as nutrition theory. Such behaviour is therefore argued to be caused by an abnormality or ‘evil gene’, which led to violent killing behaviour. Ted Bundy’s mother, when interviewed for her the Netflix series she reported that Ted acted in a much more bizarre way than his siblings did. She reported seeing Ted sneak away at night before going into his teenage aunt’s room and hiding knives underneath her covers. It is believed that chemical imbalances can cause violent behaviour. Monoamine Oxidase A’ also known as MAO-A. MAO-A is an enzyme that in humans in encoded by the MAOA gene. A connection has been made between the MAO-A gene and anti-social behaviour. It was found that ‘abused children with genes causing higher levels of MAO-A were less likely to develop anti-social behaviour and aggression.’ There are many studies, which support this claim, both animal and human studies. A study that stands out is by ‘Brunner in 1993’, who undertook a famous study on the males in a large family from Netherlands, whose members were displaying high levels of aggression. Five of the males were found to own the dysfunctional version of the MAOA gene. The females within the family were not affected by the genetic dysfunction. The MAOA gene is carried on the X chromosome, and as females have 2 x chromosome even if they possess the dysfunctional MAOA gene, their corresponding x chromosome is likely to own a useful MAOA gene, which has been found to be dominant.

Another nurture argument is the Social learning theory. Social learning theory results in traits gained by training or through rewards and punishment, this does not mean that serial killers learned to kill by watching others kill, so focus must be turned to the concept of rewards and punishment. Bandura’s social learning theory argues that people’s conduct today is directly due to past experiences, and learning happens through one’s personal interactions and influencing others around them. Violent and offensive behaviour is modelled through modelling. Kids pick up these habits from their parents or items they watch and carry down this path from generations to generations, creating a vicious cycle and violent behavioural culture. Individuals may also be affected by social factors and learn from peers. Serial killers also learn by modelling. Studies show aggressive behaviour can be taught through outlets including family, culture, and even social media. Kids who grow up in homes with abusive parents tend to mimic these activities and the power of interactive media in shows, movies and video games can never be underestimated. Luka Magnotta’s college student Jun Lin murder was his own re-enactment of ‘Basic Instinct’ a 90s thriller. Magnotta was clearly obsessed with the 1992 film ‘Basic Instinct.’ Detective Nick Curran is infatuated with Catherine Tramell (played by Sharon Stone), an author of mystery books with a trail of mysterious deaths behind her that depicts the murders in her fiction. In the film’s initial murder scene, Tramell repeatedly stabs Boz with an ice pick, Magnotta kills Lin with a screwdriver he modified to look like an ice pick and titled the video he posted ‘1 Lunatic 1 Ice Pick.’

Proponents of nature take into consideration DNA, and biological connections to our parents Lastly, not all serial killer grow up in distasteful conditions. One serial killer that is commonly referred to as being primarily created through nature was David Berkowitz. As a child and young man, all who knew him described Berkowitz as quiet and polite. His adoptive parents Nathan and Pearl Berkowitz raised David in a loving, supportive environment. David grew up in an environment that was conducive to good mental health and overall happiness. His upbringing could have not been to blame for his later actions, so it is deemed that it was something in his nature that caused these actions. Although there is no record of David’s biological family’s mental health conditions or criminal history, it is assumed that there were biological factors that contributed to his behaviour. It is clear that the nurturing he received from his adoptive parents could not have possibly played a role in the killer he became. Berkowitz stated that his reason for killing was that to “keep the demons quiet.” He claimed that the demons in his head would not stop tormenting him; in order to get rid of them, he began doing what they wanted. Along with this, Berkowitz also said that when dogs howled, he was convinced that these dogs were demons asking him to kill women. Another example of his mental disturbance affecting his life appeared when he was an adult. He was convinced that his house owners were part of the demon conspiracy. Berkowitz later moved into another apartment but was still felt controlled by the demons in his mind. Due to this evidence it is apparent that David Berkowitz suffered from deep psychological dysfunction, most likely embedded in his genes.

A syndrome that is in the nature side of serial killers, is the XYY syndrome. Some serial killer possessed an extra X chromosome. Also known as Klinefelter’s syndrome and example of this was serial killer, Bobby Joe Long, who had high amounts of oestrogen which is a female hormone in his system. During puberty, his breasts began to develop causing him a lot of embarrassment and anger. Bobby channelled this anger into raping over 50 women over a thirty-year time period. His crimes escalated killing 10 women over a 10-week period in 1983.The Y chromosome is about maleness which causes more aggressive, impulsive, and violent behaviour. People who have the XYY syndrome can be have a greater motivation towards killing and be more sadistic. Gosavi Gajbe conducted a study looking at the role of chromosomes in criminality. He examined the chromosomes of 140 murders and looked for any abnormalities that may have influenced them to commit their crimes. The study revealed that there was a definite association between both variables, but he concluded that further studies needed to be completed on more recent cases before conclusions could be made. When the XYY type was discovered, some researchers speculated that the presence of an extra Y chromosome might make a male more aggressive and prone to criminal behavior. The popular press referred to this condition as the ‘supermale’ syndrome. Some early studies of prison populations and mental institutions seemed to confirm this hypothesis. People who have the XYY syndrome can have a greater motivation towards killing and be more sadistic.

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After weighing up the evidence for both sides of the argument I have come to the conclusion that serial killers are in fact made, It is clear that nurture takes the primary role in the creation of a serial killer. Nature does play a major role in their creation and is responsible for a good portion of the process, but not to the extent that nurture is responsible. Children raised in unhappy homes develop closed off and distant personalities. Some children in unhappy homes become violent and act out in drastic ways or fantasize about killing people. Each of the killers that were researched was mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically and sexually traumatized at a young age. In order to cope with these occurrences, they became bitter, anti-social, and violent. They then slowly developed into the serial killers they one day would become. They live through extremely difficult childhoods that cause them to be closed off to the world and resent humanity, making it easier for them to murder other human beings. Serial killers are made through nurture, though it is understandable how some maybe believe they are a product of nature.   

Works Cited

  1. Eysenck, H. J., & Gudjonsson, G. H. (1989). The Causes and Cures of Criminality. New York, NY: Plenum Press.
  2. Raine, A. (2013). The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
  3. Moffitt, T. E., & Caspi, A. (2001). Childhood predictors differentiate life-course persistent and adolescence-limited antisocial pathways among males and females. Development and Psychopathology, 13(2), 355-375.
  4. Wilson, J. Q., & Herrnstein, R. J. (1985). Crime and Human Nature: The Definitive Study of the Causes of Crime. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
  5. Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  6. Walsh, A., & Wu, J. (2008). Serial Killers: Issues Explored Through the Green River Murders. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
  7. Meloy, J. R. (2000). The Nature and Dynamics of Sexual Homicide: An Integrative Review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 5(1), 1-22.
  8. Ressler, R. K., Burgess, A. W., & Douglas, J. E. (1988). Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
  9. Hickey, E. W. (2010). Serial Murderers and Their Victims (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  10. Holmes, R. M., & Holmes, S. T. (2013). Serial Murder (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
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Serial Killers: A Product Of Nature Or Nurture. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from
“Serial Killers: A Product Of Nature Or Nurture.” GradesFixer, 16 Dec. 2021,
Serial Killers: A Product Of Nature Or Nurture. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 May 2024].
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