Personally since I was a teenager I was fascinated with serial killers spending a lot of my time reading about prolific serial killers in both the UK and America, killer couples, womanisers, those who defined typical stereotypes and constantly tricked the authorities and even women killers. Serial killers have been part of our popular culture since the mid-1970s and their great prevalence in our news and entertainment indicates that I am not alone in my fascination with them.
I think I have always been fascinated with serial killers because I like to read their stories like a case file, I like to put all the different pieces together to try and work out the bigger picture and inevitably why they did what they did- why did they kill? Was it caused by trauma they went through, was it a lack of social empathy caused by poor social skills and how they were brought up, extreme environmental circumstances, lack of social relationships or romantic relationships, physical and/or mental abuse,…. there are so many factors that can influence a persons behaviour and circumstance. It is a never ending puzzle and real-life serial killers are transformed into larger-than-life celebrity monsters through the combined efforts of law enforcement authorities, and the news and entertainment media, that feed the public’s appetite for the macabre and a story that is so extreme and out of the ordinary that we have no choice but to pay attention.
The average person who has been socialized to respect life, and who also possesses the normal range of emotions such as love, pity, shame and empathy cannot comprehend the workings of a pathological mind that would compel one to abduct, torture, rape, kill, engage in necrophilia, and occasionally even eat another human being, in my case I am quite compassionate, kind and an empath so I could not imagine the incomprehensibility of such actions and no wonder it drives society to understand why serial killers do incredibly horrible things to other people who often are complete strangers for in some cases no reasonable or fatherable explanation at all.
In many ways, serial killers are for adults what monster movies are for children—that is, scary similar to horror movies but worse because they are real people. Some of us enjoy being scared from time to time and being scared or purposely scaring ourselves is good for our health according to many studies, supposedly giving us closer social connections, triggering our ‘fight or flight’ response therefore making us stronger, aiding us to live to the fullest, improving how we cope with stress and the excitement generated can also help alleviate depression by the increase in norepinephrine (adrenaline), which in turn increases arousal, excitement and glucose (converted into energy)- Being scared takes us completely away from our everyday worries and depressions. However, the pleasure an adult receives from watching serial killers can be difficult to admit, and may even trigger feelings of guilt. In fact, research has revealed that many people refer to their fascination with serial killers as a guilty pleasure.
Envitably, serial killers are such a fascination to a huge majority of society because serial killers appeal to the most basic and powerful instinct in all of us—that is, survival; the total disregard for precious human life and the immense suffering of others shocks our sense of humanity and makes us question our safety and security and our assessment of others around us and the society we live in. They are a fascination to us because even though we can count many famous serial killers just in the last 50 years, an actual serial killer is a rare occurence in common society with such extreme brutality and unnatural behaviour that human curiosity gets the better of us and we must know why- why them? What made them do the worst possible thing we could think of and most of all killing not only once but multiple times and in most cases in a random fashion without coherent motive such as rage. Why do they lack such empathy for others?
Many studies have suggested that serial killers lacking empathy is linked to neurological regions in their brains, several studies expressing that serial killers when placed in experiments to test their empathy against normal individuals they lacked the stimulation of motor, somatosensory and emotional brain regions responsible for emotional processes and decision making.
This study below from 2013 suggests that;
the individuals tested showed abnormal connectivity between the insula and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area important for empathetic decision-making, therefore the less psychopathic individuals showed more normal brain activation and connectivity in these areas. The strange patterns of brain patterns of bain activation and connectivity in highly psychopathic individuals suggested they did not experience empathy when imagining the pain of others, and possibly took pleasure in it.
Other studies for point of reference include:
—>Empathy for psychopaths: using fMRI brain scans to plea for leniency in death penalty cases- KD Phillips, Law and Psychology Rev, 2013.
—> The roots of empathy-M Slote, virtue, perspectives from philosophy, theology and psychology 2014.
—> Neurodevelopmental and psychosocial factors in serial killers and mass murders- C, S Allely, et al. 2014.
It’s really no wonder there are so many serial killer documentaries about and now fictional series and programmes based on serial killers, for now though, here are some suggestions of serial killer programmes (non-fiction) for you all to sink your teeth into:
- Death row with Trevor McDonald.
- Serial killers with Piers Morgan.
- Ted bundy: the mind of a killer.
- Most evil.
- Conversations with a killer.
- Worlds most evil killers.
- Deadly women.
- The Jeffrey Dahmer Files.
- This is the Zodiac speaking.
- Killer legends.
- Tales of a grim sleeper.
- Albert Fish: in sin he found salvation.
- Serial killers; the real hannibal lecturers.
- I survived BTK.
- The Pig farm.
- Ed Gain: the real leatherface.
- Richard Ramirez: the night stalker.
- Gary Ridgeway; the green river killer.
- Aileen; life and death of a serial killer.
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