When murder is defined by the FBI

When
people hear the word serial killer they think of an isolated, mentally ill,
Caucasian man who carries out a minimum of 10 sadistic homicides. (1) However, this misconception
is very far from the truth. A serial murder is defined by the FBI as ‘three or
more separate events with an emotional cooling-off period between homicides.’ (2) This definition shows
that the idea that for an individual to be a serial killer they have to kill at
least 10 victim is not accurate. However, not all murderers who kill three or
more victims are necessarily serial killers (2). For an individual to be
considered a serial killer, according to The National Institute of Justice,
they often have to carry out their crimes with a ‘psychological motive and
sadistic sexual overtones’ (3).  

A
psychological motive is a ‘state of physiological or psychological arousal
which influences how we behave’ (4). An example of a
psychological motive is sex drive (5). This is a biological
motive that is a result of the secretion of certain hormones such as androgens
and estrogens and it is these hormones which motive us to fulfil these urges (5).  Many serial killers often have very dark
fantasies about sex that include violence and often murder (6).  These dark sexual fantasies are often the
result of violent fantasies, which are often due to psychosocial factors such
as neglect and abuse as a child, becoming combined with masturbation (6).  Psychosocial factors are influences that
affect a person psychologically or socially’ (7).  They are a result of the combination of mood
status (anxiety, depression etc.), cognitive behavioural responses
(self-esteem, self-efficiency) and social factors (socioeconomic status,
family, education etc.) (7).Eventually, serial killers will get to a stage
where they need to act out their fantasies (6)  due to their need to satisfy their sexual
urges. It is often after this initial murder that causes a serial killer to
develop a need to kill, as they have discovered how to act out their secret
fantasies and crave to experience the fantasy again (6).

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Psychosocial
factors often impact the formation of many psychological motives. ‘However,
it’s not just psychosocial factors that impact the formation of a serial
killer, some psychologist’s estimate that up to 60% of what influences a serial
killer are biological factors. (7). These biological
factors can include factors such as hormones, brain functioning, genes and
neurochemistry. An example of one of these factors is psychopathy. Psychopathy
is defined as a ‘mental disorder in which an individual manifests amoral and
antisocial behaviour, has a lack of ability to love or establish meaningful
personal relationships, shows signs extreme egocentricity and demonstrates a failure
to learn from experience’ (8). Psychopathic serial
killers will often demonstrate a ‘lack of empathy, guilt and remorse’ for their
crimes (9). This is thought to be
due to the brain of a psychopath appearing to have differences to the average
brain (9). Over a thousand FMRI
scans showed that it was more common in psychopaths for there to be decreased
neural activity in the paralimbic regions of the brain (9). The paralimbic region of
the brain is involved with ‘moral reasoning, emotional memory and inhibition’ (9).  Throughout this essay I will be discussing
whether serial killers are born or bred by exploring both the biological and
psychosocial factors and weighing up which has the greater impact as well as
seeing how they overlap.

The
MAOA gene causes synthesis of the enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) and breaks
down molecules called monoamines (10).  Some of the monoamines broken down are
chemicals that act as neurotransmitters (10) . Furthermore, MAO-A
is positioned in the outer mitochondrial membrane in the presynaptic terminal
of the monoamine neurons so that it can regulate the amount available for
release of intracellular substrates as well the likelihood that a monoamine
neurotransmitter will be fired across the synapse (11).Neurotransmitters are
chemicals in the brain that transfer information throughout the body and brain (12) by transmitting
signals between the nerve cells in the brain (10).  These neurotransmitters are broken down when
the signalling is no longer required (10). The
neurotransmitters that monoamine oxidase A is involved in the breakdown include
serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine (10).  Serotonin regulates mood, emotion, sleep and
appetite (10). The signals that
are transmitted by epinephrine and norepinephrine control the body’s response
to stress (10). Dopamine enables
the body to produce smooth physical movements (10).MAO-A is also
involved in the prenatal development of the brain as it helps control the
process of apoptosis, the process of controlled self- destruction of cells,
which is a key aspect in the development of tissues and organs (10).