“I didn’t want to hurt them, I only wanted to kill them.” -D. Berkowitz

This quote was said by David Berkowitz, better know as Son of Sam (for those of you who are not well versed in serial killer history, he was the guy who, in the ’70’s, shot and killed people in NY City mostly at random–he would leave notes signed Son of Sam).

During our discussion on Wednesday, I was most interested in Natasha’s articles on pedophiles-not because I think they are worthy of interest, per se, but because I am incredibly interested in deviant behavior. I was never a ‘deviant’ child, nor did I, or do I, know any noteworthy deviants today (though, who knows, some deviants could be your next door neighbor of the nice lady who bags your groceries). I became enthralled by the ‘serial killer pathology’ starting in high school, after I saw a book about serial killers at the store and thought it sounded pretty interesting. This book (the name eludes me at the moment, but I have it in my dorm room if you are interested) has chapters dedicated to some of America’s most noteworthy killers, including Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Son of Sam, and Charles Manson, to name a few. The entire time I read this book, the only thing I could think of was WHY?! Why on earth would anyone have the compulsion to kill? I mean, I am sure we’ve all had moments in our life when we’ve been angry or thought things would be better without a certain crazy individual in the world, but the difference is we would never act on these thoughts-in fact, we are repelled and appalled by them. That is what separates us from these killers-we are able to realize what is an appropriate reaction-we feel guilt, we feel our concscious guiding us, and we understand the consequences of our actions. These individuals, these killers, they feel no remorse. They understand what they did, and they consciously committed these acts, but they do not see where it is wrong. WHY? What is different about these individuals? What drives them? What causes this terrifying behavior? Is it biology? Is it environment? Is it psychology? Are there structural differences? I feel like answers to these questions are practically unattainable.

I found this youtube video of a Professor of Neuroscience, James Fallon, giving a talk about serial killers and their brain morphology. I thought it was fascinating, and I encourage all of you to listen to what he has to say. He’s been studying serial killers for years, and has even had the opportunity to do brain scans and interviews. I learned a lot through this video:

What are your opinions regarding his talk? Do you agree with him? Do you feel like his argument falls apart in certain places? I think that he is very correct when he says that there is a ‘recipe’ for certain behavior: an interesting dichotemy between nature and nurture; the biological and the environmental.

I believe that we have only touched the surface when it comes to the nature of these individuals (well, most things in psychology, actually). It amazes me how unreal these stories of killers sound. I find it hard to believe that such evil can exist-that someone would feel no fear or remorse while committing such acts.

9 thoughts on ““I didn’t want to hurt them, I only wanted to kill them.” -D. Berkowitz

  1. This video, (and James Fallon) were so cool! Especially the part where he talked about the gene only being carried by the X chromosome, and how he attributed that to why there are more male serial killers than female ones. I had always (perhaps unfairly) assumed it was testosterone related…


  2. I agree Hannah, that sex-linked part was fascinating. I think the biological basis of some of this stuff is still pretty out of reach but it was encouraging to here about this research and to see progress in the field.


  3. I wonder about serial killing. Killing is a survival instinct that humans deem morally and lawfully wrong. However, we are the only creatures like that. Heck, some types of female spider mate with a male and then eat the mate for energy to progress with the pregnancy. What is the difference between humans killing animals for food and research, and serial killers? Why is it considered immoral to kill your own kind, but if it is a different species, then it’s okay?


  4. My question is what happens when you overexpress this gene in mice/rats? Just wondering. The biological basis stuff sounds bizarre. I enjoyed his enthusiasm!


  5. Jenn, I think you raise some really good points in regard to the fight between genetics and environment and how both relate to each other in effecting who we are and who we become. That was just the first thing that came to my mind as I was reading this, despite how much your post is based on serial killers!

    In response to that video, I find it so interesting that the gene is sex-linked and that it gets passed from only the mother. I learnt about sex-linked genes in a genetics class, so a lot of this makes sense to me, but I’m still pretty skeptical towards whether this could be a major factor in determining serial-killer behavior. I feel like there are so many other variables at play here. I like what Lia is getting at, in that killing should be a human instinct, however what distinguishes us from other animals is that we have a conscience… I feel like most of our societies evolve knowing that it is unacceptable to kill or murder someone… so what changes in the minds of serial killers? How do they not understand these norms?


  6. It’s hard to imagine being predisposed to serial killing, although that isn’t the only factor it seems pretty unfair to me. I enjoy a lot of crime shows like CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, SVU… I wonder why deviant behavior is so interesting to us. Are we living vicariously through fictitious experiences? Deviant behavior such as murder and sex offense is so crazy to think about, but it’s so important that we understand the reason why people kill


  7. The part that most caught my eye during Ted’s talk was that you have to experience violence in 3d to really have the full effects of the gene. It just goes to show how important both sides of the story are. The environment that we are brought up in has such a great impact on our behaviors, but on the other hand some people are born with this predisposition. This interaction is just so interesting to me! I guess thats why I am a psych major and not bio 🙂


  8. I found this video really interesting too and it’s funny we both posted the same thing! 🙂 Anyhow, I’m particularly intrigued by how discoveries in neuroscience are influencing criminal and civil legal proceedings. In line with this, cases are made to acquit criminals on the grounds of an innate and ‘unchangeable’ biology that causes the person to do things they could not ‘control’.The book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” is based on snap judgments made in various instances, including killing. Another book I’ve read called “Neuroscience and the Law” also talks about killing as it relates to biology and law. Both draw on cutting edge research in neuroscience and psychology that talk about the controversies surrounding such issues. As a student of neuroscience, it’s chilling to think that future developments in the field may have the potential to do harm to mankind and justify unjustifiable acts.


  9. The video was extremely interesting. It is fascinating that the gene is X-linked and passed from mother to son. I like that his theory combines factors from both nature and nurture. It makes sense that the gene wouldn’t automatically cause someone to be a serial killer, but a particularly violent experience pushes the predisposed over the edge. Very interesting view!


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