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The Role of Nature and Nurture in Determining a Serial Killer

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Otis Toole was an infamous serial killer between 1961 and 1983, was he predispositioned to become a killer or were there any effects that led him to become a killer? As a child Toole was forced into extensive abuse by his father and others as well as being dressed up as a girl and called Susan. Tool’s environment as a child played a strong hand into the monster he would become as an adult. Other serial killers grow up in a loving home and are natural born killers like Ted Bundy and Jeffery Dahmer, their sinister tendencies didn’t derive from their stable homes. As we grow up we pick up personality traits from our environment like Toole picked up his abusive behavior from his father and we also develop natural instincts like Bundy and Dahmer. While majority of us aren’t serial killers we all establish our personalities from somewhere. As a child one will pick up personality traits that they establish through their environment and will combine with those traits that are learned naturally.

A Child’s Environment

John Watson, a widely known psychologist firmly believed that a child’s environment and surroundings are the fuel to a child’s personality and behavior. Watson would have believed the product of your personality today is the result of your environment as a child. A child who grew up in a poverty ridden abusive home would have varying personality differences than a child who grew up in the upper class with supportive parents. Beth Thomas “ The Child of Rage” experienced an abusive childhood early on, a childhood that led her to pick up those abusive traits. At one years of age Thomas was sexually abused by her birth father, she was later removed and placed with her adoptive family at 19 months old. By six years old she still vividly had nightmares of what she had endured years before whilst living with her father. Resulting from this sexual abuse Thomas grew a turbulent personality as she would abuse her brother by molesting and hurting him as well as hurting animals. Her adoptive mother stated Beth would masturbate at inappropriate times and daily. Thomas also admitted to wanting to kill her adoptive parents and her brother, her parents would lock her bedroom door from the outside worried of what might happen if they didn’t, as paring knives would go missing from the kitchen (Ruiz, G. 2018, April 18). Thomas’ wrathful personality could have been “normal” if she hadn’t endured the abuse from her father.

B.F. Skinner developed the theory of operant conditioning in Discovering the Life Span it is stated “Operant Conditioning is a form of learning in which a voluntary response is strengthened or weakened by its association with positive or negative consequences…individuals learn to operate on their environments to bring about desired consequences”. Thomas admits to disliking people, she associated her abuse with her father to other people therefore her association with people were weakened. To bring about her desired consequences of death to others she would inflict pain on her brother, she admitted to squeezing and touching his genitals. Thomas was also caught trying to smash her brother’s head into the concrete floor of the basement in a fit of trying to kill him. Thomas associated her brother as she did her father because he was family, male, and had “private parts” so she conducted numerous acts of torment on her brother, John. Thomas was conditioned to have negative thoughts towards her family, she said the thoughts came from her birth dad hurting her and the thoughts were forwarded mostly onto her brother. Another theory that plays a role in Thomas’s behavior is Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual development, which he states that a child’s parents play a vital role in developing their sexual and aggressive tensions in their life. Her aggression was driven because each stage of this theory was not correctly met resulting in her being fixated on aggression and sexual tendencies like masturbating. Beth Thomas was born into an unhealthy environment where she was conditioned into her abusive traits and resulted in her sinister personality.

A Child’s Nature

Nature is defined as “what we think of as pre-wiring and is influenced by genetic inheritance and other biological factors” (Mcleod, S. 2018, December 20). A child can possess personality traits that are constituted from their genetic code. Identical twins can tell us a lot about the genetic making of our personalities since they share the same genetic makeup. In studies of twins it is showed that when raised in different households twins still exhibit the same personality traits as if they had never been separated. This shows us that their personality was inherited and not due to their environment, in the case that their environment played the biggest role those twins would have had completely different personalities. Eysenck’s personality theory purposes that one’s personality is inherited and affects the way one adapts and learns in their environment. This theory would explain the study of when twins are separated but their personalities still remain the same, the twins have inherited their personality and are able to adapt and learn in their different environments in the same way.

In comparison another study was conducted on two twin males who were separated at birth at four weeks old. The two brothers had then been reunited at thirty-nine years old and the similarities in their life were unbelievable. Of the similarities both men had been married to a woman named Linda then divorced, had a pet named toy, worked part time in law enforcement, and both chewed their fingernails. Even though all these experiences they had throughout their life were astonishingly similar when taking a personality test their results differed greatly.This supports our idea of nature playing a role in personality to an extent but not entirely. These twins grew up in different households and displayed having the same experiences throughout their life, which can still support our genetic information being an influence as to why these twins had a carbon-copy life, they made the same choices to take them down such similar routes. We found that nature played a part in determining the personalities in these twins but since their environment was diverse their personality’s were able to deviate from one another’s.


It is determined that both nature and nurture play a vital role in determining one’s personality. We found that Beth Thomas’s environment played a major role into her aggressive personality but did not effect her brother John in the way it did hers. We found that when twins are separated they still display the same traits and experience life in the same way as if their destiny was encoded inside of them. But does nature or nature play a bigger role?

Many psychologist believe that both nature and nurture play a role in determining one’s personality. It was shown in one study that kids were more likely to smoke due to the effects of their environment and the other kids they were around, but its also determined if they had a higher IQ to if they would be likely to smoke. This shows that both their nature and nurture influences were at play. The other kids are the nurture and the environmental influence and their IQ is their nature that was given down genetically, both played a role on whether or not one was likely to smoke.

But nurture is seen to have a greater influence on the effects on one’s personality as we discussed Beth Thomas the child of rage and the twins boys in one study. Beth Thomas was seen to be greatly impacted by the abuse of her father. Beth Thomas was unable to correctly master operant conditioning as she associated people poorly. Beth associated the abuse of her father with others especially her brother. The result of this abuse was Beth possessing a growlingly resilient personality as she was aggressive and dangerous. The twins in the study seemed to have not received many personality traits through genetics as their personality tests differed from one another, showing that their different environments had a play in the traits that they received. Eysenck’s personality theory supports the findings of why the twins differed in personality but how they had eerily similar experiences. Eysenck’s theory purposes that one’s personality is inherited and affects the way one adapts and learns in their environment. These examples show that nature greatly effected the personalities of Beth Thomas and the twins in the study mentioned. Beth Thomas picked up her abusive traits from her father and the twins from this study picked up their environment. In result it is shown that one’s personality is greatly effected by the environment they are exposed to and one’s nature also plays a role but not as significantly.

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