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The Neuroscience of Serial Killers

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Kathryn Lauria

on 28 April 2014

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Transcript of The Neuroscience of Serial Killers

The Neuroscience of Serial Killers
Antisocial Personality Disorder
The most well-recognized mental disorder associated with serial killing.
APD, commonly referred to as psychopathy, is not a clinical diagnosis.
Psychopathy is considered a developmental disorder by neuroscientists.
Psychopathic traits include charm, manipulation, and intimidation.
Many individuals with APD are not psychopathic.
It is important to realize that not all psychopaths are serial killers.
People with APD are likely to have significant differences in their brains.
Abnormalities include reduced pre-frontal gray matter, amydgala abnormalities, and asymmetric hippocampi.
Borderline Personality Disorder
Characterized by emotional instability, anxiety, and psychotic-like symptoms.
Those affected can become very paranoid or suspicious of others.
BDP can result in
zero degrees of empathy
, in which the person doesn't seem to have any empathy for others.
How does BPD relate to serial killing? Someone with this disorder suddenly becomes very paranoid or suspicious of others, has no empathy for anyone, and is subject to compulsive aggression. If there is a situational or environmental trigger, the results could become deadly.
BDP is associated with lowered levels of serotonin in the brain.
Ted Bundy
Jeffrey Dahmer
Jim Fallon, a neuroscientist at the University of California-Irvine, with his wife, daughters, and son.
Psychopaths: Born Evil or with a Diseased Brain?
Nature versus Nurture
Neuroscientist Jim Fallon is, in a sense, a "born killer".
His brain scans reveal low activity in the orbital cortex, which is associated with id-type behaviors such as rage, violence, eating, sex and drinking.
He discovered that he also possesses a gene associated with violence and aggression.
Not only does he possess the MAO-A gene, also known as the "warrior gene", but he has the high-aggression variant, meaning that he is more susceptible to violence than one with the low-aggression variant.
Most scientists believe that brain activity and genetics are not enough to make a person a killer.
The third component that separates neuroscientist Jim Fallon from a psychopath is abuse or violence in one's childhood.
Although there is evidence that some people are predisposed towards violence and psychopathic tendencies, there also has to be an external stimulus to cause someone to kill.
Do You Have the Mind of a Serial Killer?
A woman, while at the funeral of her own mother, met a man whom she did not know. She thought he was "amazing". She believed him to be her dream partner so much that she fell in love with him right there, but never asked for his number and could not find him.

A few days later she killed her sister.

Question: What was her motive for killing her sister?

The Limbic System
Frontal lobe-
the area at the front of the brain, responsible for thinking, making judgements, planning, decision-making, and conscious emotion.
a structure in the limbic system that is linked to emotions and aggression. The amygdala functions to control fear responses, the secretion of hormones, arousal and the formation of emotional memories.
a part of the limbic system lying on the inside of each temporal lobe. It is crucial for spatial navigation and encoding long-term memories.
a cluster of nuclei that controls many body functions, including feeding, drinking, and the release of many hormones.
The Making of a Serial Killer
According to the Minnesota Study of Twins reared apart, psychopathy is 60% heritable.
Psychopathy in criminals is associated with decreased connectivity in the amygdala.
Psychopaths are unable to feel empathy, which is defined as "the ability to identify with and understand somebody else's feelings or difficulties."
They do not feel nervous or embarassed when caught doing something bad.
They do not feel sad when other people suffer.
One social factor in turning a genetically predisposed individual into a psychopath may be that they were never taught to follow the rules.
Dr. Kiehl, a pioneer in the cutting-edge area of behavioral neuroscience, defines a psychopath as someone who scores high on traits such as lack of empathy, guilt and remorse.
They are impulsive
They tend not to plan or think before acting.
They tend to be in and out of trouble from a very early age.

Serial Killer Brian Dugan, whose brain was studied extensively by Dr. Kiehl.
Convicted in 2009 of the rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl in 1983, as well as several other rapes and and two murders in the following years, Brian Dugan showed no remorse for any of his crimes. Dr. Kiehl and the University of New Mexico scanned his brain as part of a project attempting to understand how anti-social behavior is related to brain structure and function.
Dugan's brain showed low levels of density in the area of the brain called the para-limbic system.
The para-limbic system is known as the "behavior circuit" of the brain, containing the amygdala and pre-frontal cortex.
Dr. Kiehl believes that these systems did not develop properly in Brian Dugan and the result is his lack of emotion.

Answer: She was hoping the guy would appear at the funeral again.

If you answered this correctly, you think like a psychopath. This was a test by a famous American psychologist used to test if one has the same mentality as a killer.

Many arrested serial killers took part in the test and answered the question correctly.

If you didn’t answer the question correctly, good for you.

Ted Bundy was born November 24, 1946, in Burlington, Vermont. In the 1970s, he raped and murdered young women in several states. He was connected to at least 36 murders, but some thought he had committed one hundred or more. He was executed in Florida's electric chair in 1989. His charm and intelligence made him something of a celebrity during his trial, and his case inspired many novels and films about serial killers.
Jeffrey Dahmer was born in Milwaukee on May 21, 1960. He killed his first murder victim, Steven Hicks, with a blow to the head in 1978. Dahmer killed 17 men, molesting some of them, between 1978 to 1991. Once caught, he was sentenced to 15 consecutive life terms in 1992. On November 28, 1994, Dahmer was murdered by fellow prisoner Christopher Scarver.
For nearly 20 years, neuroscientist Jim Fallon has studied the brains of psychopaths. He studies the biological bases of behavior, specializing in how a serial killer's brain differs from the average person. After discovering a whole lineage of violent people, even convicted killers, in his family, Fallon decided to have his brain and the brains of his family members scanned. While his wife, children, and parents' brains appeared normal, his own resembled the scans of the serial killers he has been studying for years.
Fallon's brain (on the right) has dark patches in the orbital cortex, the area just behind the eyes. This is the area that Fallon and other scientists say is involved with ethical behavior, moral decision-making and impulse control. The normal scan on the left is his son's.
It is still impossible to answer the question of "Nature versus Nurture" when it comes to psychopathy.
Studies show the correlation between criminal psychopathy and brain abnormality.
The amgydala, which is involved in the processing of emotion, appears to be defective in the brains of serial killers.
What separates a person who is genetically predisposed to psychopathy from a psychopathic killer?
Genes+Brain Abnormalities+Environment
• "Blame the Amygdala." What Would We Find Wrong in the Brain of a Serial Killer? N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/blame-the-amygdala/201301/what-would-we-find-wrong-in-the-brain-serial-killer>.
• Cleckley, Hervey M. The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About the So-Called Psychopathic Personality. Augusta, GA: E.S. Cleckley, 1988. Web. <http://cassiopaea.org/cass/sanity_1.PdF>.
• Hagerty, Barbara Bradley. "A Neuroscientist Uncovers A Dark Secret." NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2014. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127888976>.
• "Jeffrey Dahmer Biography." Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2014. <http://www.biography.com/people/jeffrey-dahmer-9264755>.
• "Psychopaths: Born Evil or with a Diseased Brain?" BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2014. <http://www.bbc.com/news/health-15386740>.
• "Serial Killers, the Brain, and the Mind: Empathy Research in Current Society | Triple Helix Online." Triple Helix Online RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. <http://triplehelixblog.com/2012/08/serial-killers-the-brain-and-the-mind-empathy-research-in-current-society/>.
• "Ted Bundy Biography." Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2014. <http://www.biography.com/people/ted-bundy-9231165>.
• "The Making of a Serial Killer." Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2014. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-superhuman-mind/201212/the-making-serial-killer>.

TED Talks: Jim Fallon
Full transcript