In the world of criminal investigation and law enforcement, several types of evidences are required in order to make legitimate judicial decisions. The most important type of evidence is without a doubt the physical evidence resulted from working the crime scenes. However, in order to state a reasonable case in court, or –often- to lead police officers to apprehend suspects, non-physical evidences are required. Supporting assessments like suspect’s criminal background, motives, and psychological explanation of behaviors are necessary to complete a case. Similar to gathering physical evidences, assessing non-physical evidences require certain types of expertise and knowledge. The expertise is called forensic profiling / criminal profiling and the knowledge is called forensic psychology / investigative psychology.
Within this essay, I will discuss how forensic psychologists contribute to the apprehension of serial predators by developing a proper assessment of suspect’s criminal psychopathology. It is necessary to first elaborate briefly on the profession –Forensic Psychologists / Criminal Profilers- and the meaning behind the term -Criminal Psychopathology-.
II. Definition of Forensic Profiling
We can use various names in addressing the forensic profiling activities. The FBI call them ‘criminal investigative analysis’, or ‘crime action profiling’. Some of these names are created to avoid public definitions of forensic profiling that has been influenced by TV shows like the ‘Profiler’ and movies like ‘Silence of the Lambs’. Whatever they are called, according to psychologist, Janelle Rogers (1999), their activities have a common goal, which is to help crime investigators to examine evidences from the crime scene, victims and witness reports in order to develop suspect’s description. They are logical processes –no visions and no psychic powers- where specially trained individuals aid investigators at the crime scene.
Forensic Psychology is often mistaken as the Science Psychology. Despite its similarities, the major difference between them is that Forensic Psychologists delve into the vast psychological perspectives and apply them into the criminal justice system. Science Psychologist –ones, who often appear in courtrooms-, mostly deals with legal issues like criminal’s competency, and sanity. The profession of Forensic Psychology now rests –even sometimes uneasily- between the practice of law enforcement and psychology (Winerman, 2004).
III. What is Criminal Psychopathology?
Psychopathology is a term which refers to the study of mental illness & psychological impairments, and how they manifests to certain experiences and –furthermore- behaviors. Several different professions are involved within the study of mental illness. Psychiatrists, Clinical Psychologists and even Neuroscientist –if his/her study is directed to how brain activities created certain mental illness- can be called a psychopathologist (Psychopathology, 2006).
Criminal Psychopathology is the study of how mental illness or abnormality in the psychological conditions manifests in criminal behaviors. It reaches to enter the mind of criminals and seeks motives or conditions that explain the criminal behavior. The conditions that explain the criminal behavior might be psychological in nature, but some indicated that brain malfunctions could significantly contribute to criminal psychopathologies.
IV. How Criminal Psychopathology is employed
The area in Forensic Psychology that strongly associated with how the human mind works is the Criminal-Investigative Psychology. Within this area, Criminal Profilers creates a psychological profile of suspects based on any information they might have about suspect’s motivation, mental illness and human behavior in general (‘Criminal-Investigative Psychology’, n.c). This activity is also referred to as ‘assessing the criminal psychopathology’.
For example, in 1956, frustrated investigators asked the psychiatrist James Brussel for assistance in capturing a ‘mad bomber’ that has been terrorizing citizens for 16 years. The criminal has been planting bombs in movie theaters, phone booths and all public areas around the New York City. Brussel studied crime scenes photos and several notes left by the bomber and came up with detailed description about suspect’s gender, status, nationality, education, age, mental condition and the city which he lived in. Some of these assessments are originated from common sense, and other was based on psychological ideas. In January 1957, -guided by Brussel’s description-, the police captured George Metesky who finally confessed and convicted for planting over 30 small bombs all over New York City (Winerman, 2004).
Criminal profilers observe the victims, witness reports and most of all the crime scene, looking to build a behavioral profile of the suspect based on things that is done –and things that is not done-. After the profile contains enough psychological description of the suspect, profilers compare this data with other criminals or mental patients with the same basic characteristics. This is done to obtain a clearer description of the suspect to help officers in apprehending him/her. After the suspect is caught, profilers can study even more about criminal psychopathology by verifying motives and assessing his/her state of mind. The data is then stored for future reference (‘Criminal-Investigative Psychology’, n.d).
IV. Psychopathology of Criminals
According to Adriane Raine (1993), there are various types of factors involved in the formation of a criminal psychopathology. They consist of familial factors, extra-familial factors, cognitive factors, neuro-psychological factors, psycho-physiological factors, brain imaging, biochemical and genetic factors. Each crime investigated will have some level of correlation to mental disturbances within the factors mentioned above.
IV.1 Psychological Perspective
Several Psychologists believed that mental disorders are forms of adaptive response to the environment and life’s circumstances. The psychologists stated that mental disorders are ancient diseases, and can even be found along the evolutionary lines. An example of miss-guided psychological perspective that associated with criminal behavior is described by the ‘living for now’ expression. Antoine Bechara stated that failure to acknowledge the linkage between present actions with future consequences is the cause of many types of criminal behavior. Criminals are often insensitive to future consequences, whether they are positive or negative. Therefore, they act with only the consideration of immediate prospects and ignoring further or larger consequences (‘Living for Now’, 1995).
However, the strongest argument regarding the causes of a criminal psychopathology comes from the neuro-psychological and psycho-physiological factor. Researches on this subject resulted in the fact that brain functions have significant influence in determining patterns of behaviors. All Criminal behavior is originated from some type of disorder in brain functions. Even the failure to acknowledge consequences –as stated above- is often associated with injuries or damage in the prefrontal cortex.
IV.1 Brain Disorder
Prefrontal Cortex plays a strong role in fear conditioning and response to stress. Physical damage in this part of the brain is often linked to violent and criminal psychopathology. Poor conditioning in fear and stress situation are associated with poor development of human conscience. A study using PET (Positron Emission Tomography) –a device that detects the level of glucose intake in parts of human brain during various activities- indicated that murderers had much lower levels of glucose uptake in the prefrontal cortex compare to normal people. The differences do not correlate to differences in age, gender, ethnicity, motivation, drug consuming activities, or presence of schizophrenia. Raine stated that prefrontal cortex damage can be associated to impulsivity, loss of self control, immaturity, poor social judgement, etc (‘PET Study’, 1995)
V. Psychopathology of Serial Killers
One of the core functions of criminal profilers is to help capturing suspects of serial killers. Serial murderers often repeat their crime in the same manner, thus repeating a pattern that can be used to differentiate a serial killer to other suspects (Rogers, 1999). Profilers would examine the evidence of similar cases to determine the pattern (if they exist) and then incorporate aspects of the social sciences to make descriptions or predictions about the serial killer. These assessments would aid law enforcement officers to identify the suspect and finally capturing him/her.
There are various perspectives that explain the existence of serial killers. In order to have clear understanding of a serial killer’s psychopathology, I think it is necessary to discuss the subject from several perspectives.
V.1 Psychological Perspective
According to John Liebert (1985), serial murderers are subject to very primitive emotions. Impulsive sexual and violent desires are the organizing force behind his/her personality. He/she are victims to ‘unstoppable’ impulse to satisfy those desires. In line with Liebert, Sean Hill stated that in the serial murderer’s mind, the pleasure principle takes the dominant role in the development of his/her personality. Revenge and hate constantly fused and shaped his/her behavior pattern, causing him/her to see the world around him in psychopathic perspectives.
V.2 Multiple Personality Disorders (Psychiatric Perspective)
A book by D. Lunde (1976) revealed facts that most serial killers have a multiple personality structure. They often stated that in the midst of committing murders, their original personalities are taken over by an overwhelming urge to kill. They said that during the criminal act, they became like witnesses to murders they committed.
Criminal researchers stated that some people deal with emotional stress or traumatic experiences by repressing it into their unconscious mind. This creates emotional build-ups which overtime resulted strong and structured negative emotions. Most of those people manage to salvage their basic personalities by creating a defense mechanism dissociating themselves from their negative emotions. However, in times where they felt the urge to protect themselves, these negative build-ups manifests in the form of hostile defender, committing behaviors unrestrained by values stored inside their basic personalities. After the criminal behavior is committed, the original personality does not even understand how the incident happen (Allison, 1982).
V.3 Social Bond Theory (Sociological Perspective)
This theory explains the criminal psychopathology of serial murderers from the social angle. It argues that one of the most important factors that shaped people’s personalities are social consciousness and social attachments. When a person’s social attachments are weak, they may deny the moral codes of his/her society, which resulted anarchic behaviors. Social murderers often experienced low social attachment. They often felt detached from their family members and peers. They failed to evolve empathy from their existing social bonds.
V.4 Psychobiological Perspective
As stated previously, the one of the strongest argument within the subject comes from those believing that criminal actions originated from brain disorders. Researches indicated that serial murderers have organic disorders within their central nervous systems. This can come from biochemical imbalances, genetic disorders or brain injuries. In case of serial murderers, disorders of the hypothalamus, temporal lobe and other limbic structures of the brain have been identified as key factors underlying their psychopathology. For example, Dr Vernon Mark has discovered that certain disorders of the temporal lobe are associated with certain behavior patterns commonly found among serial murderers (Norris, 1988).
Criminal Psychopathology is a study of mental disorders that manifest themselves through criminal behaviors. In a sense, it is the origins of criminal acts, viewing from criminal’s mental condition. Criminal profilers use the study to develop predictions regarding suspect’s description or suspect’s future behavior. There are various kinds of criminal psychopathologies according to perspectives which they are developed from. Due to the complicated nature of criminal’s personalities, I believe that each perspective is important, and should be taken into account when criminal profilers are developing suspect’s profile.
For example, taken from the psychological perspective, serial murderers are often driven by primitive emotions –like blind hatred or sadistic sexual fantasy- during their criminal acts. Therefore, they would lack the higher consciousness to disguise their acts, and perform each murder in similar manners. Their criminal psychopathology manifests in the form of similar types of victims, similar murder devices, or other observable patterns of murders.
Allison, Ralph. 1982. ‘Multiple Personality and Criminal behavior’. The American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, volume 2. p32-38.
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Liebert, John A. 1985. Contributions of Psychiatric Consultation in the Investigation of Serial Murder. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Coparative Criminology, 28, 3, 187-200.
Lunde, D. 1976. Murder and Madness. San Francisco, CA: San Francisco Book Company
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Rogers, Janelle. 1999. Criminal Justice Newletter. Retrieved February 22, 2006 from http://hansel.mnstate.edu/cjhome/newsletter/Vol2/Nov_1999.html
Winerman, Lea. 2004.’Criminal Profiling: The Reality Behind the Myth’. APA Online. Retrieved February 22, 2006 from http://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug04/criminal.html