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Student Research Guide WQ23/ Understanding the Psychology of Serial Killers

By Isadora White

What is this Guide for?

Understanding the psychology of a Serial Killer

This is a student created research guide for English 102 & Library 201 Learning community.

This guide will:

  • This guide will analyze patterns and subtypes of serial killers found by criminologists.
  • This guide will provide information as to why serial killers have captured Americans' interests.
  • This guide will present information about what type of serial killer commits different crimes. 

My focused research thesis is: Criminologists' psychological insights about serial killers have helped capture serial killers more efficiently, and also captured the American's public interest.


Research questions addressed in this guide:

What typical subtypes and patterns are found in serial killers?

What spurs a serial killer to start killing (what happened in their childhood)?

Why are Americans enthralled by prolific killers (what draws them to serial killers)?



While the concept of serial killing has been around for centuries, it was only in the latter half of the 20th century that it emerged as a distinct area of research in the field of psychology, known as criminal psychology. The study of serial killers can help shed light on issues such as mental illness, and psychopathy, which can be important for developing strategies to prevent and address violent crime. Not only has more research been done about them, but society has become more interested in them. There is an interest to understand the psychology behind serial killers and what motivates them to commit crimes.

This research guide proposes to understand the relationship between psychological findings through criminal psychology, and how it relates to serial killers and their crimes. In order to write this guide, relevant research was taken from established literature in the SVC databases such as ProQuest and Science Direct, and from many online sources. The results of this research guide shows that the criminology field is always evolving because the field is learning new data about serial killers. As criminologists analyze crimes by serial killers, they can narrow down the subtypes of serial killers in the crime committed with more accuracy. They can also find more common patters in the childhood of serial killers, and/or other patterns found in their childhood that led them to becoming serial killers. Looking at the usage of patterns and information that criminologists have found in their studies, there is an increase in the number of serial killers caught before they commit multiple crimes. There will always be continuous research about serial killers, and there will always be new findings in research about the patterns, subtypes, and typologies.

Background Information

Criminal psychology first emerged at the end of the 18th century, and was used in legal, philosophical, and medical aspects. But conflict emerged when judges and medical experts were sentencing people for criminal behavior. 

Criminal psychology is the study of intentions, actions, and thoughts of criminals. Criminal psychologists have helped law enforcement track down killers by finding different patterns like subtypes, behavior, and/or factors from a serial killer’s home life that potentially contributed to people becoming serial killers. 


In this video, the speaker briefly addresses the top three elements that makes a serial killer. James Fallon (the speaker) is a neuroscientist and a professor in Psychiatry & Human Behavior at University of California. He has given many lectures about his research and findings regarding the human brain, specifically in the field of neuroscience. 


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