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The Mind of a Serial Killer

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Author: Chen Zhe Lin

Editors: Jasleen Matharu, He-Hanson Xuan, Shirley Chen, and Hwi-On Lee

Artist: Serena Zhou

What makes a serial killer? Is it an abusive childhood that leads to their desire to murder? Or is it simply something innate that separates them from the rest? These questions have been asked for hundreds of years. Serial killers are not like the average Joe. They are people who have committed horrifying crimes and are far from the typical criminal.

Most serial killers have a hunger for murder that's unlike anything else. Some of the most infamous killers include John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer. Their main motivation was to get their hands on as much control as possible.

When people ask the question "What makes a serial killer?", the first response they usually get is that they were just born like that. However, research has shown that serial killers were victims of significant physical, sexual, and psychological abuse as children. This proves that serial killers are not born with these strong tendencies to murder and harm, but these tendencies are often the result of long-term childhood terrors.

Not every serial killer was molested as a child, and not every serial killer was mistreated as a teenager. But the correlation between the two cannot be brushed aside as mere coincidence. Personal traumas can influence one's behavior. Dr. Adrian Raine, a criminologist, claims that both biological and societal variables have a role in the development of murderers. More than 100 twin and adoption analyses were examined, and the results revealed that about 50% of the diversity in antisocial behavior can be attributed to genetic factors. Dr. Raine shows how genetics and environment interact to promote aggressive behavior in his book, “The Anatomy of Violence.” For instance, those who carry a particular version of the monoamine-oxidase-A gene are more likely to act violently if they were raised in a violent environment. This further shows that serial killers are not born into the world with these dangerous qualities, but instead, their nature is a result of how they were raised.

Serial killing is not a novel crime, yet such phenomena remains incompletely explained by the field of psychology. Researchers have made many efforts to examine the biological, psychological, and sociological factors that may have contributed to the formation of a serial killer's criminal mind. In particular, Norris in his book, “Serial Murderer,” outlined a behavior pattern he called serial killer syndrome. However, despite the numerous profiles of traits that are commonly linked between serial murderers, no one has fully discovered the secret to the mind of a serial killer.



Bonn, Scott. “Serial Killers: Modus Operandi, Signature, Staging and Posing.” Psychology Today, 29

June 2015,

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