Literature Review

Ashley Ashley

Columbia Southern University

ENG 1302, English Composition

10 December 2022

Understanding serial killers' motivations, development, and habits can be challenging because they are among the most dangerous and elusive criminals. Researchers have conducted numerous studies to examine the various traits connected to serial killers to understand them better. A focus will be placed on the psychological, sociological, and environmental aspects that lead to the development of a serial killer as this literature review explores the various hypotheses and findings about serial killers.

According to psychological theories, serial killers are motivated by deep-seated urges for dominance, control, and power. Psychoanalytic theories suggest that there may be an underlying desire for vengeance resulting from feelings of rejection and victimization. Other psychological theories link severe mental disorders like psychopathy or schizophrenia to serial murders. According to Davies (2022), not all abused children go on to commit several murders, and not all serial killers were raped as youngsters. According to the article, a person's genetic makeup, trauma, environment, and personality are some elements that contribute to serial killer behavior. However, dismissing the two's link as the result of pure coincidence is impossible. A person is more prone to act violently if they have a specific monoamine-oxidase-A gene variant and experience abuse as a child. Not every child predisposed to genetically motivated aggression grows up to be a criminal (Davies, 2022).

According to sociological ideas, conditions including social and economic hardship, poverty, and a lack of access to quality education and employment prospects can mould people into serial killers. According to these views, serial killers may be motivated by a need for dominance and control over their surroundings. According to Entail (2021), an individual's propensity for serial killing is influenced by genetic and environmental factors. Serial killers are exceptional because their personal experiences have affected their personalities and attitudes. Investigations into serial killers are further complicated because many lead normal lives and hide behind very commonplace lifestyles, making it more challenging to locate them. Professionals and the general public have a lot of curiosity, which calls for more study and rigorous analysis. Without a doubt, a person's predisposition to commit serial murder may rise due to a confluence of inherited features and environmental factors. Thus, environment, trauma, personality, and inheritance all work together to determine serial killer behavior (Entail, 2021).

Because a criminal's attitude is molded by both their genetic composition (nature) and their upbringing and history, Hernandez et al. (2015) contend that all criminals are judged using the same standards (nurture). Understanding the mind is a major focus in psychology, enabling the study to add to the meager body of knowledge about the mind. The ideas of nature and nurture are at the heart of most psychiatric problems. This highlights the importance of the relationship between genes and their environment. Understanding the mind is a major focus in psychology, enabling the study to add to the meager body of knowledge about the mind (Hernandez et al., 2015).

O'Hara (2021) asserts that the nature perspective maintains that serial killers are born with particular characteristics. It is believed that they have better levels of impulse control and less empathy than others. The article bases its arguments against serial killers on research by Dr Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin in 2000. According to Davidson and his colleagues' examination of the brain scans, the brain activity in the orbital frontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex was lower or absent. They discovered that the amygdala either became more active or remained active. Killers can be influenced by their environment, but Davidson and his colleagues concluded that they have no control over the genetic reactions that are a part of them (O'Hara, 2021).

In conclusion, a serial killer's development is thought to be influenced by both nature and nurture. While a person's DNA and genetics may incline them to violence, their environment and social environment can significantly impact and mold that behavior. According to studies, most serial killers, or about 60%, experienced a traumatic childhood event such as physical or sexual abuse or neglect. It's thought that these encounters might contribute to the emergence of personality disorders like antisocial personality disorder, which can manifest as violent conduct. These contextual elements may influence how a serial murderer develops, according to some theories.


Davies, N. (2022, August 24). From abused child to serial killer: Investigating nature vs nurture in methods of murder. Psychiatry Advisor. Retrieved December 11, 2022, from

Entail, W. D. A. S. K. (2021). Are Serial Killers Born or Made?.

Hernandez, J., Highsmith, J., Madrigal, S., & Mercado, M. (2015). Nature (MAOA) and Nurture in a Criminal.  UC Merced Undergraduate Research Journal, 8(1).

O'Hara, K. (2021, October 23). Nature vs nurture: The making of a serial murderer. Medium. Retrieved December 11, 2022, from