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Serial Killer Psychology


Steve
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In Dark Champions many bad guys have "Casual Killer" as a Psychological Complication, having no problems ending the lives of anyone around them, whereas many vigilante heroes have "Vigilante Mentality" in their write-up. Vigilante Mentality is described as being like Casual Killer but with a focus.

 

In the case of serial killers, it seems to me that they might also be something other than Casual Killer sorts. Their motivations to kill are often targeted towards a certain type of prey. Some also leave ego signatures at their crime scenes.

 

I'm thinking of using "Serial Killer Mentality" on a character sheet to define their killing mentality, but I'm open to ideas.

 

What are suggestions for Psychological Complications that would be at work in a serial killer?

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Perhaps "Compelled To Kill" could be a possible Complication for a serial killer.

 

While not about serial killers, this article about mass murders could help provide some insight--for example, this paragraph--

 

Adam Lankford, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama, said that in his research on mass killers who also took their own lives, he has found “a significant number of cases where they mention a desire for fame, glory or attention as a motive.”

 

That could apply to serial killers just as easily as those who murder many people at once.  And in this paragraph--

 

Serious mental illness, studies of mass killers suggest, is a prime driver in a minority of cases — about 20 percent, according to estimates by several experts. Far more common are distortions of personality — excesses of rage, paranoia, grandiosity, thirst for vengeance or pathological narcissism and callousness.

 

This would indicate that Complications like Paranoid, Vengeful, and Narcissist could fit a serial killer quite well--and all could be taken, at the Very Common, Total levels.

 

Hope that helps.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Heh.  Heard an NPR interview last summer of a scientist who was studying brain scans of psychopaths to compare to those of non-psychopaths, identifying areas of inactivity in psychopaths that are active in non-psychopaths.  And discovered that he has the brain of a psychopath.

 

Ah, a quick search found an article about it:  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127888976

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Heh.  Heard an NPR interview last summer of a scientist who was studying brain scans of psychopaths to compare to those of non-psychopaths, identifying areas of inactivity in psychopaths that are active in non-psychopaths.  And discovered that he has the brain of a psychopath.

 

Ah, a quick search found an article about it:  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127888976

Exactly, what makes Any characteristic "good" or "bad" is how it gets used. Sure it is real hard to make sociopathic a positive, but wall street employs many who pay taxes, and build value just fine.

 

Many surgeons are a little bit sadistic, it helps if you enjoy cutting people..... :shock::winkgrin:

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My essay on serial killers in Creatures of the Night: Horror Enemies might provide some ideas.

 

I would question whether any Psychological Complications should be Very Common or even Common, though, because part of what makes serial killers so hard to catch is their great skill at functioning within society and presenting a rational facade. (They should have Acting on their skill lists, for sure.) While the compulsions are powerful, serial killers show extreme control in how and when they indulge them. (Until they confess or perform some act tantamount to confession, such as letting a victim escape at the last minute.)

 

So, a Complication such as "Serial Killer Mentality" (covering the compulsion to kill and the narrow victim profile) should probably be Uncommon, though Strong or Total.

 

Many serial killers crave social approval and take up activities to gain it. Think John Wayne Gacy entertaining children in the hospital, or Ted Bundy's work at a suicide prevention hotline. They may hover around the edge of the police investigation of their crimes, seeming nice and helpful. It's only once you think of them as a suspect that you see the manipulative side. "Craves Approval" (Common, Strong) might reflect this.

 

Serial killers can vary within the general profile, though, so I wouldn't recommend any package of Complications beyond the defining "Serial Killer Mentality."

 

Dean Shomshak

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I saw that neurologist on a TV program, too, discussing his research. He was a bit surprised to find he had a psychopath brain activity pattern. His family and friends said, more or less, "Well, duh. You make a living through your obsession with poking at other people's brains. You hadn't noticed?"

 

See also a recent book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths. The same traits that make psychopaths so dangerous when they are strong and out of control are also the traits that make people very successful and social leaders when they are toned down and broght under control.

 

An article on the book incidentally mentioned doctors as a case. One person profile, a leading brain surgeon, explained that he has cultivated a degree of megalomania and callousness: When operating on another person's brain, with their life and mind at stake, being a millimeter off can have horrible consequences. For his patient's sake, he cannot allow a moment's doubt or pity to unsteady his hand. Nothing can matter except the perfection of his performance. It's a disconcerting viewpoint, given how empathy and compassion are so often extolled as the highest virtues.

 

Dean Shomshak

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Dexter might be covered under a form of Vigilante Mentality, since the Code of Harry focuses his urges against a specific set of targets. Has he ever killed anyone other than really bad people?

No, but I assume that he probably wanted to, and if not for The Code Of Hary, who knows. (The main villain in the first book and session, the Ice Truck Killer, is.. Better set up my spoiler space

his biological older brother

.)

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That could apply to serial killers just as easily as those who murder many people at once.  And in this paragraph--

 

Serious mental illness, studies of mass killers suggest, is a prime driver in a minority of cases — about 20 percent, according to estimates by several experts. Far more common are distortions of personality — excesses of rage, paranoia, grandiosity, thirst for vengeance or pathological narcissism and callousness.

Batman (after capturing the Joker) - " Tell all that to his victims or their loved ones."

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Dexter killed a few innocent people in the show.  Not to spoil anything, because the first several seasons are really good (even if the last few were pretty weak, and the ending sucked).  But I can think of at least 3 occasions where he killed someone who wasn't a murderer.  One guy was a prick who said the wrong thing at the wrong time (note to self: don't antagonize a serial killer who is in grief), the second was a guy Dexter thought was a murderer but really wasn't (oops), and the third was a friend who had some terminal disease and asked to be put out of her misery (so it was basically a mercy killing).  There's a lot of inner monologue about whether certain kills are allowed by the Code of Harry.  After all, Rule #1 is "don't get caught".  Is that more important than Rule #2, "never hurt an innocent"?  If not, why is it Rule #1?

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Rule #1 trumps Rule #2. Which tells you a lot about Harry. (Even more so when you realize that he could of had his foster son insitutionised at any time after he discovered the animal bones, but instead waited to see if it was a phase, and when proved it is not one, started thinking...)

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