Introduction:The FBI has developed some universal, common traits that they use to predict who will be a serial killer.
The common serial killer is usually a white male between 20-30, is intelligent, is often an underachiever in schools, comes from a broken home with an absent father and a domineering mother. They grow up with childhood abuse, physically or sexually, and develop a problem with male authority and a strong hostility towards women. They often have psychological problems at an early age. They spend time in institutions as a child and have a hatred towards humanity. They often have an unhealthy interest in sex at an early age, which turns into an obsession as they age (Deadly). These traits are used worldwide to help profile criminals, but should they be? The question that I will be investigating in this paper is “Is criminal behavior primarily biologically based?”.
Recently, studies have come out from all over the world from researchers who are looking at criminals who are incarcerated and are wondering why the people in prison had committed the crime that they were there for. Was it due to the nature of their genetics, or due to the nurturing they received, or didn’t receive as a child. There were also some researchers who wanted to look at the brain of these incarcerated criminals to determine if there was something different about them, biologically speaking, that made them more likely to commit a crime.
Then they had to entertain the possibility that if there is a biological reason a person commits crimes, is there a scale of sorts, or a hierarchy of crimes, starting from trespassing and going all the way to murder, that is based on that biological difference? Can someone have a predisposition to commit grand theft auto vs committing mass murder? If that is the case, how do you figure that out? What enables you to look for biological differences and is it a viable source to predict criminal behavior? Brain Scans are how psychologists can look for biological differences in anyone, but for the purpose of this paper, the focus will be on the differences found in criminals and how they compare to an average citizen. Brain scans were developed in the 1880’s by Angelo Mosso to measure the redistribution of blood during emotional and intellectual activity. It wasn’t called a brain scan back then, it was called a “human circulation balance”, but it was the first time that humans had the ability to study the brain of a living person. Up until that point, humans had only been able to look at the brain of a corpse after an autopsy has been conducted. The more modern idea of a brain scan, called neuroimaging, didn’t come into existence until the 1990’s when the pneumoencephalography was invented. With the addition of the pneumoencephalography, it wasn’t long before scientists and psychologists alike were able to invent better imaging tools.
The most common imaging tools that can look at the brain, and that were used in several psychological studies in this paper, are the CT scans (computed tomography), MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging), fMRI (functional Magnetic resonance imaging), DTI (Diffusion Tensor imaging), EEG (electroencephalography), and a PET scan (positron emission tomography). (Davidson)A CT scan is used today to show the density of the brain in question. An MRI scan is used when looking at the brain in whole, and to look at the individual parts of the brain when comparing them. Something might be missing from a criminal’s brain that other citizens have, or vice versa. A fMRI is used to see the function of the brain and all of its parts. It is normally used to study perception, language or memory.
A DTI is similar to the MRI, but it adds water to the brain to track how well the water molecules can move around the brain and around it’s connecting fibers. It is used to determine how well the brain’s parts are functioning together. An EEG is used to record the brain’s electrical waves to detect abnormal activity.
Most times it is used for seizures, but it can also be used to look for sleep disorders, which might be a factor in criminal behavior. PET scans use radioactive tags to show which brain areas become active when someone performs a task. Researchers use it to look at what part of the brain lights up when doing a certain task, such as thinking about a crime you have committed or seen. (Davidson)The studies that will be used in are the Kray brothers, the Spahalski brothers, the Silent Twins, the Fox twins, the Eriksson sisters, Raine (2000), Patrick Kearney, Ed Kemper, Ted Bundy, John Joubert, Harvey Glatman, Cesare Lombroso, Dr.
Eyal Aharoni, Albert De Salvo, Joseph Kallinger, Henry Lee Lucas, Jeffrey Dahmer, Joel Rifkin, and Charles Schmid. I will be looking at case studies, longitudinal studies, and experiments.Genetics Studies:One of the best examples of biology being the main contributor of criminality is the study of twins. Twins can be either monozygotic or dizygotic. Some of the examples that will be shown are twins that grew up in the same household and the others grew up separated from each other in different households.
Regardless, they both ended up becoming criminals (Killer). One set of identical twins that became infamous criminals was the Kray Brothers. Born in 1933, they started off as boxers and starting in the 50’s, they began running dangerous mafia-style operations in London’s East End. They eventually got into extortion, armed robbery, arson, hijacking, assault, torture, and murder. John Pearson said, “In gang fights, they seemed to be telepathic as if they were one”. The Kray Brothers are an example of identical twins that grew up in different households, yet still became criminals together(Killer). An example of identical twins who grew up separately and had no idea the other one was committing crimes is the Spahalski brothers. Identical twins Stephen and Robert Bruce Spahalski were both killers, but they had no idea the other one was a killer due to the fact that they grew up in different households and had little to no contact with each other for most of their lives.
Stephen was the first to kill, fatally stabbing a man, but Robert ended more lives, including a prostitute, whom he strangled with an electrical cord, and his girlfriend, whom he choked to death. (Killer). The Silent Twins, who only communicated with their immediate family, are an example of fraternal twins who became criminals. The sisters, who committed several crimes, including arson and petty theft, were committed to England’s Broadmoor Hospital, where they lived for 11 years and were later diagnosed with schizophrenia(Killer). Schizophrenia is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to think, feel, and behave clearly (Dummies) Albert Ebenezer Fox and Ebenezer Albert Fox had very similar names and a knack for poaching.
Poaching is the illegal hunting or capturing of wild animals.Between the two of them, the twins were convicted nearly 150 times for poaching. These two grew up together in the same house, but from a young age, they decided that both of them would become criminals.
Biologically, they were destined to commit the 150 acts of poaching and the 150 acts of obstruction of justice (Killer). Ursula and Sabina Eriksson, Swedish twins, made headlines in 2008 after video cameras caught them running into oncoming traffic on the M6 motorway in the U.K. One made it all the way across and the other made numerous attempts. Both were hit by cars, and Sabina was arrested for punching the police officer who attempted to restrain the twins. She was eventually convicted of a much more gruesome crime committed later that year. On May 20, 2008, shortly after Sabina’s odd brush with the traffic cops, she killed a father of two by stabbing him repeatedly with a kitchen knife (Killer).All of these case studies prove that criminal behavior is primarily biological based.
They all do a good job looking at both the nature and the nurture aspect of siblings who have committed crimes, whether they did them together or apart, and all of the above case studies come to the same conclusion. No matter if the siblings grew up together or separately, they all grew up to be criminals. Criminal behavior appears to have little to do with how a person is raised, and rather has to do with how their genetics line up.
Serial Killer Traits: When looking at serial killers specifically, there are certain personality traits that profilers have found to be common in all killers. As addressed in the introduction, the common serial killer is usually a white male between 20-30, is intelligent, is often an underachiever in schools, comes from a broken home with an absent father and a domineering mother. They grow up with childhood abuse, physically or sexually, and develop a problem with male authority and a strong hostility towards women. They often have psychological problems at an early age. They spend time in institutions as a kid and have a hatred towards humanity. They often have an unhealthy interest in sex at an early age, which turns into an obsession as they age.
However, there are other factors that they have determined fit the profile of all serial killers. Serial Killers lack empathy. When you compare them to average citizens, they are devoid of emotions. It is how they are so good at manipulation. If you were to look at their brain scans, using an EEG or a PET scan, you would notice that there is little to no activity in the amygdala, which is credited with controlling the stronger emotions such as fear and aggression (Deadly).
Raine (2000) looked at the difference in the prefrontal gray matter volume and the autonomic activity in criminals, with a focus on serial killers. When they looked at the data from the PET scans, they determined that there was a significant decrease in both the gray matter volume and a noticeable reduction in the autonomic activity (Raine). This study, done in England, helps prove the capability to predict criminals from biological components, such as brain scans. Serial Killers, in particular, are born different than average citizens. It is not possible for just anyone to become a serial killer. You have to meet certain criteria, or else you will never be able to be one (Raine).
This study was eitc, because it can be applied to most other countries, as England holds a good balance of diversity. It also can be generalized to other humans as they looked at criminals from all backgrounds. Another aspect that is found in criminals, with reference to serial killers, is the ability to understand what they are doing, and it’s possible consequences. There are reports worldwide of criminals who have known from a young age that they were “different”. From the age that they are able to make mental connections, they are able to discern the fact that they are criminals. If they are able to do that from an early age, then there has to be a biological component to criminality. The “Trash Bag Killer”, aka Patrick Kearney, said that he knew from an age 8 that he would grow up to be a killer.
Ed Kemper the Co-Ed killer, had a crush on his teacher at age 7, but told a fellow student that “if I kiss her I would have to kill her first”. Had someone, a teacher or a parent had done something about that, like put him in a mental asylum or jail, then they would have saved 10 innocent people. At age 3, Ted Bundy, the campus killer, was leaving butcher’s knives in his aunt’s bed. Before he reached his teens, John Joubert, the Sunday morning Slasher, was slashing girls with a razor blade. At the ripe age of 4, Harvey Glatman, The Lonely Hearts Killer, was practicing sadomasochism, a psychological tendency or sexual practice characterized by both sadism and masochism (Deadly). Fifty years ago, people would’ve laughed when they were told that someone might be inherently evil. As researchers and psychologists are able to delve deeper into the minds of past criminals, we are learning that the warped views of the world by criminals take root at an early age.
Criminal behavior is something that you are either born to do or not, and these killers were born to.Brain Scans: Being able to scan the brains of living individuals has allowed us to make giant steps forward in trying to answer this question. The idea that there may be differences in the brain of criminals which can be measured is being explored through neurocriminology; an area of psychology using neuroscience and specifically brain imaging to explore these possibilities. It was believed in the early 18th century that criminal behavior was entirely biological based. In 1871, a psychiatrist and prison doctor by the name of Cesare Lombroso was working in a mental asylum for criminals. The theory that came from this was one that would be controversial for years to come. This theory is said to be the foundation of the idea that the brains of criminals, particularly violent and aggressive criminals, are different and that these differences can be seen and measured.
While performing an autopsy, Lambroso found an “unusual indentation” at the back of a prisoner’s skull. From this, he inferred that deformities of the brain were the cause of criminal behavior. Building on the theory of the phrenologists of that time, he claimed physical characteristics such as large jaws and sloping foreheads make criminals stand out from the crowd. This has a significant amount of ecological validity because it is the basis for all crime that has been committed since that fateful day. It is also a holistic approach because it took into account that the brain may not be the only difference in criminals and non-criminals.
Towards the end of the 18th century, Lambroso stated he believed 40% of the total criminal population had innate biological factors determining their criminality. In other words over one-third of the population were born criminal. By 1889 his estimates were 33% of the population were born as criminals.
The advancement of brain imaging technologies has opened the door for a plethora of research regarding convicted criminals in order to examine their brains more closely (Learning).When considering criminal behavior, such testing can be used to directly compare the brain activity of criminals against the brain activity of non-criminals when they are carrying out the same tasks, enabling any differences to be spotted and analyzed. And an important experiment proving this is one that was done in Albuquerque, New Mexico by Dr. Eyal Aharoni and his colleagues (Learning). Neuroscientists from the University of New Mexico conducted a neuroimaging study with 96 adult offenders in a New Mexico prison who were within four years of their release. Eyal Aharoni and his colleagues wanted to see whether the offender’s brain scans could be used to predict the likelihood of the prisoners re-offending in the future.
Working with the Mind Research Network the researchers were able to take a mobile fMRI scanner into the prison in order to carry out the testing with the prisoner group. They scanned prisoners’ brains while they were undertaking tasks which involved making quick decisions and trying to stop themselves reacting impulsively. In a ‘go/no-go’ task, subjects watched a screen in front of them and were asked to react to what was displayed. When an ‘X’ appeared on the screen, they were to press a hand-held button (a go trial).
When a ‘K’ appeared they were not to press the button (no go trial). In order for their response to count they had to respond to the go trials in less than one second. In this way, the test was focusing on the participant’s impulse reactions and decision-making abilities, as well as the ability to resist when the K appeared on a no-go trial (Learning). This research and similar studies are important as they highlight some of the areas that those engaged in criminal behavior may struggle with.
It has been suggested impulsiveness is one of the factors involved in criminal behavior, where even if a person realizes the potential negative consequences of committing a crime, once they have started they find it difficult to stop. Being able to determine if they will commit the same crime again from their brain scans gives police and federal agencies the ability to know when someone will be a troublemaker. It also provides proof that criminals are created biologically, not by their environment.
You are born with or without impulse control. It’s not something that you can beat out of someone.Counter-Argument: There is another possible contributing factor that causes controversy when discussing what causes criminal behavior.
Child abuse. Of course, not every abused child becomes a serial killer, but an alarmingly high number of serial killers suffered abuse as a child. Albert De Salvo, the Boston Strangler, was a horrible man who regularly beat his wife and children with metal pipes, brought prostitutes into their home, and even sold his children into slavery.
Joseph Kallinger’s, the Shoemaker, mom used to force Joseph to hold his hand over a flame and would beat him if he cried. Henry Lee Lucas’s, the Highway Stalker, mother beat him so hard that she fractured his skull. She also forced him to watch her have sexual intercourse with men. However, there isn’t concrete evidence that backs up the claim that criminals are made from their environment like there is with brain scans. Especially when you take into account the fact that other serial killers grew up in seemingly normal homes. Jeffrey Dahmer, Joel Rifkin, and even Patrick Kearney grew up in normal households, yet they turned out to be some of the most infamous serial killers in the world.
The “Pied Piper of Tuscon”, Charles Schmid, was even pampered and indulged, his every desire catered to. Therefore, the argument that criminal behavior is influenced/caused by the environment surrounding the individual is invalid (Deadly). It all goes back to the nature vs nurture debate that has plagues psychologists for years, but criminal behavior, as proven throughout this paper, is more biologically based. Conclusion: The introduction focused on how the FBI has begun profiling criminals, and what was similar to all serial killers and criminals alike.
However, those factors could only be focused on after the fact. The crime had to be committed first before you could profile who did the crime and why. The point of this paper was to propose a new method of profiling, one that starts much earlier and has the ability to save many lives. The reasons for why people commit crimes may be more complex than we think, perhaps beyond even Stephen Hawking’s comprehension. Maybe a better question to ask is “is anyone capable of committing a crime?” And the answer to that is an empathetic “NO!” The creation of criminal behavior requires a perfect storm, whereby you have to be born with all the factors mentioned in this paper, and even some not mentioned, and you have to have a certain amount of them, like sexual deviancy and a lack of empathy and impulse control.
A combination of aberrant psychology, childhood abuse, and peer rejection cannot be given the credit for creating criminals. You must give credit to the biological factors that determine who will be capable of committing a crime. As proven throughout this paper, you have to be born with a lack of emotion, impulse control, have more aggression than any other emotion, and be manipulative. Criminals are not created in society, they are born.
When looking at all of the criminal siblings and at the criminals brain scans, it becomes apparent that people are just born wanting to commit crimes, there isn’t a reason for why they are the way they are. The brain scans do not lie. A possible topic that could be explored from this research is the possibility of using brain scans on babies to pick out which ones will be criminals, and then maybe give them to a home where they will be raised to acknowledge that fact and have people there to teach the kids to deny their biological instincts in hope of creating normal citizens. It may not be possible, but it is something to look into.
A lot of lives could be saved this way. The question that arises from this is “is it morally ethical to convict someone before they have committed a crime, just because you believe they will commit a crime?” (Deadly).