Why There’s A Bit Of Patrick Bateman In All Of Us

Your Brain May Have Serial Killer Potential!

For those of you who may have been living under a rock for the past 20 years, or/and for those who just aren’t into movies, Patrick Bateman is a fictional character and narrator of the novel and film adaptation of American Psycho. Bateman is a wealthy Wall Street investment banker and a serial killer. When we say that there’s a little bit of Bateman in all of us, we mean a little bit of a potential killer in all of us, not an investment banker… You’re probably thinking this sounds bonkers, right?  

Psychopathy and killers have always been associated with inhumanity and cold blooded monsters who make the conscious decision to kill because they can. The taboo around talking about whether killers kill due to their nature or nurture and ultimately shifting the blame from the killer to their mental health and/or upbringing has meant research has been slow and stifled. Until now. 

The role of the brain when committing murder is becoming more and more relevant and researched, especially when it comes to unpredictable behaviour. Researchers are arguing that killers may have an underlying abnormality in brain development and a reduction in their emotional learning. Both of which could happen to anyone…

All across the country, there are people just like me, who set out to destroy human life.”

Henry Lee Lucas, serial killer 

Don’t worry, although science says we have a little bit of murder-potential in each and everyone one of us, it doesn’t mean we will definietly act on it. What it does mean, however, is that the brain may be largely accountable when it comes to those who kill. So what is it that triggers someone to kill? Is it solely the brain?

A study by Dr Feggy Ostrosky‐Solís explored the brain of a 48-year-old woman who was accused of killing at least 12 people and she unearthed some interesting findings. After extensive neuropsychological, electrophysiological and neuropsychiatric testing the researchers discovered that there was no evidence of a DSM‐IV‐TR Axis I diagnosis (these include clinical disorders such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.) However, a “decrease in executive functions and abnormalities in the processing of affective stimuli were found.” 

Was she born with these decreased functions or was it due to her life experiences? Further studies revealed that the woman had a “dissociation between knowing how to behave and actually behaving in socially acceptable ways. According to the woman, killing was just her response to “humiliating situations.”  It turned out that she experienced childhood abuse and head injuries, both significant to the study and explaining her behaviour. They concluded that the nature of her crimes, personality traits, a probable frontal brain dysfunction and her past experiences, accounted for her violent behaviour. 

This study shows that nature and nurture may both be to blame for a murderer’s traits and their actions. And these traits can come in small doses within each and every one of us, thanks to a combination of our brain, its wiring and our upbringings. 

“It was an urge. . . . . A strong urge, and the longer I let it go the stronger it got.”

Edmund Kemper, serial killer

A scientist who believes we can learn a killer’s traits by education, socialisation and culture, is Ilie Magdalena Ioana. Ioana describes in her study No One is Born a Serial Killer! how many killers kill to ease great mental tension and they are violent and kill as a result of a “continuous moral decay.” She highlights their psychological characteristics: “egocentric, domineering, with a low capacity of reasoning, unstable and superficial in emotional contact, making them engage in conflicting situations, reacting violently.” Ioana states that it’s “neither the intelligence, nor the thinking, the memory, the imagination, or the language of a killer (that) are the psychological causes of his murders, but the deeper springs of his personality: the emotional, motivational, natural factors that were generated not only by hereditary, biological factors, but by the factors related to education, socialization, culture and, especially, the socio-economic environment the individual lives in.” Having a turbulent upbringing could encourage killer-esque traits and moral decay. 

What Have We Learnt So Far? 

  • Our environment and upbringing could turn us into killers 
  • The way our brains are wired can also be blamed
  • There are certain traits, such as lacking moral judgement, that a killer may have.

Although D Lester, author of publication Serial Killers: The Insatiable Passion, says there are many types of murderers and it’s very tricky constructing a solid profile, which means that your theory Susan from the marketing team is definitely a murderer because she’s self-centred, domineering and unstable, could be thrown out of the window. She could in fact not be a serial killer and just a nightmare to work with. Although CEO Sonia who is gentle, fun with a slightly superficial edge could be the one to watch out for! Or is she already watching you..?  

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Maisie Bygraves

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