The “Serial Killer” effect, what went wrong?

5 min readDec 27, 2021

The line between insanity and reality is dangerously thin

Whether it be from the news or articles plastered over the face of the internet, we all have an ear full of the heinous crimes commited by fellow humans: people seemingly just like us. This aspect further adds to the eeriness of criminals, people we place our trust in with an appearance similar to our nearby neighbor. They appear so awfully normal to our eyes and though we’d like to say we are nothing like them, the intricate mechanism of their minds often works surprisingly close to ours. We seem to share so many similar traits to these criminals to the point where one question arises: what exactly went wrong?

Delving into the science behind the eyes of a serial killer, it is important to note that things are not so simple as we all hold a powerful weapon inside of us: our mind. Comparably to ours, each brain is capable of actions we hope for ourselves we would never take. The kindest soul is capable of the same level of evil another may have no issue partaking in. Therefore, the difference lies in the decision, who chooses good and who chooses evil. The line between the former is already blurry as is so what exactly leads to a human being good in accordance to society or evil? Where does darkness begin to arise? Generally, the four main traits that contribute to becoming a killer are trauma, personality, environment and genetics. Psychologists have studied for decades what exactly goes on neurologically for an individual to decide which moral choices they settle on and though there are still holes and new questions that arise for each step forward, we have come a long way in understanding the science behind a deranged brain.

Childhood appears to be one of the leading part in what pushes an individual to become the person they transform into. This is possibly due to the critical innocence childhood brings to the world, wide-eyed gap toothed individuals who are in need of the greatest amount of protection. However, due to this particular fragility, children are exposed to the world of evil that we have now grown to evolve but that they are bathed in too early on. Trauma upon a child leads to numerous disastrous effects on the wellbeing and emotional state of an individual. Developmental delay, drug use, PTSD, anxiety, depression. As Victoria Aveyard once said “No one is born evil, just like no one is born alone. They become that way, through choice and circumstance.” Based off a multitude of American studies the statistics are clear: there is a tough link between abuse and criminal activity with 36% suffered physical abuse, 26% sexual abuse, 50% psychological abuse, 18% neglect and only 32% reported no abuse at all. Trauma to the mind of a young child acts in a sort of destructing power upon the sensitive neurons and matter the brain holds. There are severe hormone level changes such as a rise in cortisol and adrenaline which in itself contain a variety of negative long term effects such as neuronal damage resulting in limited cognitive capabilities. Furthermore, immune system is weakened and epigenetic changes occur. Emotional or physical trauma especially when placed upon the fragile mind of an infant leads to an army of disfavourable outcomes which potentially can lead, in rarer circumstances, to the creation of a killer. Trauma is the single recurring theme when it comes to the study of mass murderers such as Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy. It is important to note that not every child that suffered of some kind of trauma becomes a psychotic killer however, most serial killers have suffered from emotional or physical distress resulting in long term trauma. Being aware of the cycle of abuse should encourage every parent to act in a positive manner towards their child and to shield them from the world’s atrocities to the length of their abilities.

Childhood and personality, another contributing factor further have a robust tie. Personality is in fact a multifactorial element that depends on both genetics and environment. The way you are raised has been proven to have a lasting effect on your mind leading to the development of a diversity of personality traits that would not have been exhibited otherwise. A study suggests that personality is set for life by the age of first grade, approximately 7 years old. This is both frightening and impactful as it puts a spotlight on the importance of a healthy childhood and environment.

Genetics is the less controllable factor that plays into the equation as it set in for life since the moment you open your eyes for the first time. When analyzing brain scans from multiple killers and comparing it to the mind of a person, regardless of mental disorders such as antisocial disorder or psychotics patterns, on key element can be observed: low orbital cortex activity. Reduced gray matter is another aspect missing from the brain of many serial killers. Though often, serial killers tend to be slightly above the average via IQ, they lack crucial brain development. Simply explained, the pre frontal cortex which is often highly jeopardized in the minds of serial killer is responsible for most of the emotions that we deem make us human. It regulates emotions such as empathy, judgement and forebought.

It can clearly be observed that all four factors contributing to creating a killer all seem to delve into each other and all root back to each other. It may serve as awareness to others that we are in fact, a byproduct of our environment, which is both in and out of our control. What kind of parent you are will ultimately matter and the devastating effects of trauma can relay but still, ultimately turn deadly. The line between insanity and reality is dangerously thin.

Jean Fallacara





Jean Fallacara, Scientist- Eng. Biotechnology Athlete, Biohacker, Speaker, and Author of the book: NeuroScience Calisthenics