Throughout history, there have been countless amounts of evidence that illustrates that human beings are some of the most violent organisms on Earth. However, why it is that human beings tend to react to crime occurrences in different ways. Researchers have often wondered why some human beings prefer more violent crimes, than those that are less violent. When it comes to crime, individuals that pertain to different societies, do not always react in the same manner as those around them, which often causes them to be described as hypocrites.
Meanwhile, even though everyone is entitled to their own opinion, differences in opinion when pertaining to criminal behavior, can often lead individuals to be ostracized from certain groups within those societies. Crimes, especially violent crimes, have the tendency to either bring the best or worse in people. Additionally, one would assume that the more violent the crime(s), the more it would repel people. However, the truth is that today’s society tends to idolize individuals that commit violent and gruesome crimes; the more violent and gruesome, the more attention those individuals receive.
In reality, these individuals have received almost as much attention as Hollywood celebrities; they often become overnight sensations. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), has defined a serial killer behavior as “a series of three or more killings, not less than one of which was committed within the United States, having common characteristics such as to suggest the reasonable possibility that the crimes were committed by the same actor or actors” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, n. d).
As mentioned above, society, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), have developed specific criteria that will determine hether or not these individuals, who are known for committing some of the most heinous crimes, will be classified and identified as serial killers. Based on those classifications, scholars have often claimed that there must be a scientific reason as to why society finds serial killers so appealing and why these individuals become serial killers. According to criminologists, “violent criminals have an early history of crime and aggression” (Fishbein, 1990) which would suggest that something occurred early in their childhood which caused them to become violent offenders throughout adulthood.
These situations are often used to describe how nature versus nurture determines an individual’s behavior. Scientist have long determined that there is no such thing as “a gene for violence, violence is a learned behavior” (Ferguson and Beaver, 2009). That notion suggests that the criminal behavior is learned over time based on their environmental influences and not a genetic predisposition. Additionally, criminologists have developed a theory known as biological positivism, which states that criminal behavior, specifically violent behavior occurs due to a chemical imbalance in the brain.
The biological positivism theory is made up two other theories, traditional and modern biological theories, which go hand in hand with the original theory. Based on the traditional biological theory, “criminal behavior is a result of a defect within the individual. This defect can be either biological or genetic and can be used to differentiate between a criminal and law abiding citizens”, whereas, the modern biological theories, “search for a link between things like testosterone and IQ” (Law Teacher, n. . ).
One could argue that these theories support the claims of the nature versus nurture perspective when it comes to explaining why individuals exhibit criminal behavior. Throughout the past couple of decades, criminologists have developed different theories that are meant to help society understand why certain individuals commit violent and gruesome crimes. One of those theories focuses on how the biology, genetics and evolution of the human race can affect behavior.
As stated earlier, there is evidence that indicates that biology, genetics and evolution do not fully cause aggression or criminal behavior(s), but there is a high possibility that may be a correlation between an individual’s biological makeup and their environment which could possibly compel them to behave in a manner out of the ordinary. This notion also circles back to the nature versus nurture perspective, but solely focuses on the influence that aggression might have over an individual’s behavior.
According to researchers, aggression has been defined as “behavior produced to cause physical harm or humiliation to another person who wishes to avoid it” (Ferguson & Beaver, 2009), which seems like a very generic definition. It is important to note that “violent behavior certainly would be aggressive, but not all aggressive behaviors are violent or even necessarily negative” (Ferguson and Beaver, 2009). Also it is important to understand that not every culture identifies aggression in the same manner. That being said, what might be considered to be aggressive in one culture, might not be in another culture.
While keeping in mind that aggression is not always determined by the same external or internal factors, one should keep in mind that there are careers which require individuals to show forms of aggression, and therefore does not necessarily mean that those individuals will exhibit criminal behavior(s). Examples of different situations in which it would be appropriate to use aggressive behavior include: standing up for one’s beliefs, defending those in deed, law enforcement officers, military officials, and some types of sportsmanship like conduct, etc. Ferguson and Beaver, 2009).
Therefore, aggression should not be defined as a “behavior produced to cause physical harm or humiliation to another person who wishes to avoid it” because in fact, aggression when applied to the specific description of serial killers, is “behavior which is intended to increase the social dominance of the organism relative to the dominance position of other organisms” (Ferguson and Beaver, 2009). That being said, serial killers become aggressive hroughout their killings in order to establish dominance over their victims which tend to be weaker and therefore, cannot fully defend themselves. Truthfully, serial killers focus on killing weaker members of society because they want to reinforce their powerful persona over them. Despite social belief, researchers have concluded that there is no genetic evidence that indicates that human beings possess a gene that would cause them to participate in criminal behavior.
However, one could also make the argument that said individuals are behaving in a more “primal” manner, often referred to as “primal instincts” and therefore, use criminal behavior to establish their dominance over those they deem weaker than them. This sort of primal behavior can be explained by years of research on how evolution has helped human beings evolve over time. In contrast, criminologists have also argued that despite previous knowledge on the biological influence on behavior, there are other major factors that can produce indicators and can determine why individuals behave like they do.
Researchers have determined that the rational choice theory, which was developed by Derek Cornish and Ronald Clarke, is more applicable when determining the factors that often contribute to an individual’s behavior. According to Cornish and Clarke, the rational choice theory was developed to demonstrate just what one would gather from the title of the theory and that would be that individuals possess rational thinking which they implement throughout their daily activities.
However, evidence shows that even if it seems that every individual possess rational thinking, certain thoughts might not be ration to everyone. That being said, the “rational thinking”, that might lead an individual to commit crimes, in this case serial murders, might not be accepted by society as a “rational thought” and therefore, makes it possible for these individuals to be ostracized and stigmatized by different societal groups. Even though society has a consensus on what corresponds as rational thinking, criminologists have developed a model that further explains the ational choice theory.
According to the rational choice model, there is a consensual assumption which states that people seek some sort of gratification in order to avert any situation that may cause them pain in the near future. By seeking this gratification, they guarantee their well-being. Furthermore, the rational choice model also assumes that those in charge of creating laws will implement the necessary laws that will limit individuals from pursuing their selfish acts, which in this case would be their need for expressing their criminal behavior.
That beings said, just the notion of being in trouble with the law would prevent individuals from participating in criminal activity. (Hirschi, 1987). One would assume that the mere knowledge of being prosecuted by the law would deter individuals from committing crimes, but in truth, the fact that committing crimes can be a costly endeavor is the primary reason that prevents individuals from committing crimes (Wright, Caspi, Moffitt, & Paternoster, 2004).
Although the theoretical purpose of the criminal justice system was to create some sort of deterrence, the truth is that recidivism is more likely to occur within a few years of an offender’s release date. This is mainly due to the fact that individuals who have been incarcerated have diminished social skills and also because employers tend to negate employment to those who have been incarcerated. By not being able to obtain a method of employment, the offender is more likely to violate their parole requirements, which would eventually be one of the factors that contributes to their next incarceration.
In conclusion, by using the rational choice, biological positivism and the biological, evolutionary and genetic theories, criminologists have been able to explain how external and internal factors can affect an individual’s behavior Furthermore, by being able to understand why people behave like they do, society has a better understanding why individuals become so consumed in their criminal behavior that they commit gruesome crimes and end up being classified as serial killers.
Additionally, by understanding and continuing to research the different theory that have been developed, society is able to understand why serial killers captivate our attention like they do. As evidence has shown, people tend to hold serial killers to a different standard and tend to view them as Gods. For example, serial killers such as Charles Manson and Ted Bundy have gone down in history as some of the most notorious serial killers in history.
However, what exactly makes people formulate those sorts of opinions about serial killers, when in fact society should fear them more than any other type of criminal. One could claim, in the case of Ted Bundy, that it was his charming personality or in Charles Manson’s case, the fact that he never feared authority made him an ideal icon to those who wanted to stand up to authoritative figures such as law enforcement officials. So that being said, what is it about the development of their behavior that makes them so appealing to serial killers aficionados.