Unfolding the Anatomy of a Killer: Are They Born or Made?

Are killers a product of nature or nurture? – this has been one of the oldest questions in criminology, law, philosophy, and theology. Despite many years of discussions, no one seems to have found the answer yet. Until now, the debate still continues on whether killers (or criminals in general) are genetically disposed to behave anti-socially or are brought up in an environment that fosters anti-social traits. Indeed, unfolding the anatomy of a killer takes more than just examining the surface.

The Explanation of Genetics

Killers are born with a set of genes that makes them more likely to commit murder than others. This is the argument of some scientists who believe that genetics plays a crucial role in the creation of a killer. Genes known as MAO-A (Monoamine Oxidase A) and CDH13 are thought to be the ones responsible for some people’s predisposition to violence. If you are a fan of the Netflix show Riverdale, then you are probably familiar with these so-called “murder genes”.

According to the Genetics Home Reference, the MAO-A is an enzyme that breaks down monoamines, neurotransmitters that include dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin. When a person has a low-functioning MAO-A, serotonin and other neurotransmitters tend to build up in the brain. This can then lead to such behavioral problems as aggressive and violent outbursts. CDH13, on the other hand, is a gene that is involved in signaling between cells. It is commonly associated with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and substance abuse. However, its effects on the behavior and criminality of a person is still much unknown.

In a study conducted by Professor Jari Tiihonen of Karolinska Institutet, the genes of 895 Finnish criminals were examined for comparability. Here, it was found that those extremely violent criminals who committed crimes such as homicide and batteries all carry a particular set of genes including MAO-A and CDH13. These genes are nowhere carried by other criminals who committed less serious and non-violent crimes. Studies such as that of Professor Jari Tiihonen provides a basis for some scientists to believe that genetics does play a role in the creation of a killer.

The Influence Environmental Factors

Many infamous killers are known to be survivors of early childhood trauma of some kind, including physical or sexual abuse, family dysfunction, and absence of parental guidance. For those who believe that environmental factors influence the anti-social behavior of killers, trauma is something that can best explain why some people become murderers. If you look at the biographies of the recorded killers in history, you would notice that trauma is the single recurring theme.

In Dr. Wanda Draper’s The Witness: Unfolding the Anatomy of a Killer, the concept of nurtured criminality has been greatly tackled. Its story emphasizes the idea that key circumstances of childhood can lead to adult criminal behavior. Indeed, for the proponents of this side of the debate, human development can explain better why some people commit crimes, including the atrocious and inhumane ones.

According to Professor James Garbarino of the Loyola University Chicago, based on his observations while working with violent inmates, almost every violent person has a story of despair that stems from childhood. He described these people as untreated traumatized children settling in the bodies of often very scared men. These men commit murder and other extremely violent crimes unwittingly on behalf of the wounded and enraged child that inhabits them. For people like Professor James Garbarino, children who suffer from abuse, prejudice, and poverty are more likely to develop into vicious adults compared to those who are well-adjusted.

 The Possibility of Finding the Answer

Is it possible to find an answer to this long-standing debate between natural and nurtured murderers? Perhaps in the future, but not anytime soon. At present, the society is drowned in waves of information. However, none of these pieces of information offers sufficient knowledge that can provide an answer to the old question of nature versus nurture. In fact, people seem to know less about killers today than they thought they did around twenty years ago. If there is one thing that people can be sure of now, it is the fact that they know so little about killers. With this, unfolding the anatomy of a killer still has a long way to go.

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