An Analysis of the Psychology of Male and Female Serial Killers

What is the psychology behind a serial killer? Are they mentally ill, or do they simply enjoy the act of killing for what it is? Everyone has a different genetic makeup, so maybe that’s where the answer lies? We will delve deep into the minds of serial killers to find what exactly it is that makes them kill. We will look into the psychology behind both male and female serial killers, their motives for killing, and what really drove them over the edge.

Serial killers and serial murder are nothing new. From Jack the Ripper back in 1888 to the Zodiac Killer only years ago, some have never been found and some are just getting started. The real question is, what makes them tick?

Before we begin, some background must be established to fully understand the history of serial murder. “…According to “Ripperologists, the spate of killings attributed to Jack the Ripper was the first to occur in a major city in such a way as to garner considerable police attention and media coverage,” (Ramsland 4) says Katherine M.

Ramsland, the author of Inside the Minds of Serial Killers: Why They Kill. That is when serial murder was born – to the public and to others who had the overwhelming desire to kill. From Jack the Ripper on, serial killers began to rise and even lead to copycats of the most serious crimes committed.

To note a few, Ted Bundy, Jeffery Dahmer, and Ed Gein were and are still some of the most famous serial killers to date.

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The media coverage they received has lead to several copycat attempts and allowed the word murder to be glamorized by publicity. Books, movies, and television shows have gripped audiences for years – all about serial killers. Most recently, The People VS. OJ Simpson has people glued to their televisions as the grimacing story of OJ Simpson and his murder trial is retold once again. All of this press and attention, unfortunately, leads to perpetrators looking for a sense of belonging and a sense of fame, leaving victims behind them.

While psychology has come far in the last century, books are still be published, articles written, and tests being done to find out what truly makes people kill. Fortunately, we have been making progress with genetic and mental diseases, all a part in the psychological make up of a killer. Such things as borderline personality disorder and pure psychopathy have been the diagnoses of some of the world’s most notorious killers. Without medications, these things can get out of control and cause people to do things they would never think possible and maybe never even realize.

Let’s start with motive. Motive is defined as the motivation a person has to enact violence on another person, and in this case, kill. Motive plays a very specific part in every homicide investigation and is sometimes crucial to getting into the mind of a killer. In the case of serial killers, the FBI says, “A large distinction that separates serial killers from other murderers are their motives to kill,” and “Unlike that of a normal homicide, serial killers are only driven by instinct and a desire to kill.” This, when it comes to psychology, can tell a lot about the person killing. It can start with whether the victim was known by the killer or not. Then, move on to how that person was killed.

Methods of killing are another means of determining where a perpetrator is psychologically. Sometimes, there can be violence involved – typically multiple stab wounds, multiple gunshots, tying up the hands and feet, and even beating. These all lead to the thought that this wasn’t personal, but rather that the killer enjoyed doing it. All of these things are products of the mind. It is the minds way of giving the killer away. However, some of these acts can also lead to the publicity some killers feel they deserve. “The sadistic nature of his crimes, especially in the relatively rare cases involving torture and/or mutilation, inevitably attracts maximum publicity; while public alarm is further heightened by an awareness that – unlike most other murderers – many serial killers deliberately target total strangers as their victims” (Wilson 34).

The constant nature versus nurture debate is very critical here. Something that really pertains to the psychology of a person is how they grew up, how they were raised, and what they were taught. Did this serial killer come from a broken home where he or she was beaten as a child and neglected their whole life? If so, there is definitely going to be a stigma for violence in the future. “…In examining a persons background, an individual could be considered high risk to commit violence as a pattern in the future. A young adult with a history of fire-setting and torturing animals could easily be one who should be watched closely, offered as much therapy and intervention as possible, and also considered in a pool of suspects in a given investigation” (Giannangelo 156).

To continue with the nature versus nurture debate, it can stem directly from the correlation of ones psyche. If a person presents any sort of emotional or psychological insanity, it can start to show in the beginning stages of life. Regardless of if one is nurtured correctly, a possibility that the nature of ones self can show through. Take for example two twins that were both raised in a broken home. One twin follows in his parents footsteps, drops out of school, is jobless, addicted to drugs or alcohol and is abusive towards his spouse. If you look toward the other twin, he has graduated from college, has a stable home, stable relationship, stable job, and ultimately a stable life. If a person, regardless of the way they are raised, have stigmas in their personality, their mind, and in their souls to commit wrongdoings, crimes, and all around evil, that will show through regardless of how carefully they were nurtured.

Killers are born, killers are also raised, and as it seems, no one is entirely sure how they are produced. It can be from just the dynamics of ones self, or it can stem directly from the environment that the individual was raised in. To be morally sound is a trait that we all learn, rather it be from people that are in high authority in our lives, such as our parents, or teachers, even simply from the people that we find ourselves drawn to, they can all have a lasting effect on the people we grow to be. On the other hand, its safe to say that the possibility of one being born with defects that will presents itself all throughout or even later in adulthood is not something that we can entirely rule out. Based on our knowledge of murderers in not only our era, but from the eras before us, we see that they are both bred and born.

If a person is presented with a psychological disorder such as borderline personality, multiple personality, schizophrenia, or being diagnosed as a full fledged sociopath, it can intensely effect the way that person views life, morals, and themselves. If a person finds that they are unable to conform to society in the way society wants, they will find alternative ways in their own wills to produce what they believe to be a viable situation to the turmoil they feel inside of themselves day to day. It would be unfair and unethical to conclude that the psychology of ones mind does not completely reflect on the choices and decisions they are bound to make as adults.

Most notably, almost all serial killers are said to have some form of a mental disorder and they do not have the mental capacity to understand the morality and the ethics of life in a conformed culture. In many ways, killers are born without the ability to properly understand that what they are doing is wrong.

If you were to look into the mind of a serial killer and deliberately try and to understand they way their mind works, it would almost be an impossible task. Unless you are suffering from the same disorder as the person presented to you, you will ultimately judge and misunderstand the way that the mind of the murderer works and will be unable to properly correlate yourself to them. You will see them, as evil, rotted, terrible people that deserve the same fates they decide are worthy of the people around them.

In reality, my opinion on this matter is that the disregard to the mental status of murderers and serial murderers is something that needs to ultimately and indefinitely be taken into proper consideration before procuring a death penalty. Most people that find themselves having thoughts of homicide or potentially hurting those around them should be subjected first and foremost to mental health treatments and should be recognized as individuals who are in need of guidance and in need of instruction into the depths of their own minds.

If it is possible to rehabilitate those who are afflicted with the mental health diagnoses that push them towards violence and crime, then it would be more beneficial to use the expertise of psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, and behaviorists to determine rather or not it is possible to properly change the way ones mind works to make them acceptable and suitable to live freely in society without the threat of them committing mass or continuous murders.

It is better for our society to try and understand the mental processes of those who are unable to properly handle the urges that they feel and think of day to day. It is better for everyone, even the criminals, to understand why they are the way they are and to possibly provide change for them. All people could benefit from the understanding of the minds of people we do not know. If we do not understand a person, we should at least have enough insight as conscious people to want to understand why they are the way they are, especially if it has to do with a mental disability.

If you take into account the way that therapists, psychoanalysts, behaviorists, and psychiatrists view serial killers and murderers, it would potentially be able to help the entirety of our culture and society to see that they are no different than we are, they were just born or raised in a way that made them unable to properly function in a societally correct way. It is entirely possible, in my opinion, to change the mental processes of a person, even a killer, even if they are unable to see the entirety of the harm they have done.

If we were to work with those who are willing to see the wrong behind their actions and attempt to show them the correct way to act, it could provide much insight and better understandings of groups of people as wholes. It would provide new ways to really be able to interact and find the stem of the problem in those people who continually decide to commit murders.

If you are familiar with Freud’s psychosexual personality development, there is a theory that he provided stating that fixation, which is defined, “as energies remaining stuck in a psychosexual stage due to excessive or insufficient gratification of instinctual needs,” (Griggs 321). If one is fixated on a certain developmental stage in their lives, it can cause them to act unnaturally and against what they should, by Freudian terms, egotistically be able to control. If they are taught to act differently, it could not only benefit them, but benefit society as a whole with being able to understand that this can stem from even the smallest, and most miniscule events in the lives of a child going into adulthood.

In regards to victims, the FBI did a study that reported:

“The victims were primarily female (75.4%) and ages ranged from 8 to 91 years:

  • 8 to 13 years (3.3%)
  • 14 and 29 years (50.4%)
  • 30 to 45 years (29.4%)
  • 46 to 60 years (6.7%)
  • Over 60 years (7.6%)
  • Unknown (3.3%)”

So what we find here is that serial killers don’t necessarily have a type. This is due to their psyche and simply how there mind works. However, all of those psychological factors come into play when determining a serial killers motive, and overall tendency to kill. Regardless of victims, motive, and crime – the real object of focus is that persons mind. “He lacks a conscience, feels no remorse, cares exclusively for his own pleasures in life, and lacks the ability to empathize with the suffering of his victims” (Kocsis 4). What is someone without his or her mind? This, in every sense of the word, is what a true serial killer is.

It doesn’t matter what time period we’re in or how much we study up on physiological disorders, people are always going to kill other people. However, serial murder is something that can be controlled, with the right set of tools. Knowing the signs of psychological disorders and being able to cope with them are two very important aspects of life. Teaching our students about mental health can help them identify if them or somebody they know may need help. There are ways to prevent serial murder; we just have to understand them. The more we understand a serial killer, the easier it will be to stop them all together.

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An Analysis of the Psychology of Male and Female Serial Killers. (2023, Feb 15). Retrieved from

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