Nature vs. Nurture: What Makes a Killer

Megan Henderson

Blog Post 1

Psych 100.003


Nature vs. Nurture: What Makes a Killer

            School shootings, serial killers and violent children.  Any time a shooting occurs, children lash out, or horrible things happen by the hands of humans, people instantly respond with “It’s these video games today, there’s too much violence on television…” or something of that nature.  When horrible things happen, people naturally assume it’s because of the environment in which they’ve been raised, but there might be more to the debate than that.                                                                                                              On one hand, the concerned mothers of Call of Duty and GTA players might just have a handle on things. Stemming from the time of the Greeks, Aristotle had the belief that human behavior is subject to laws.  This view, known as “Empiricism” was built on the idea of knowledge being gained through experience.  This is where the mothers and concerned citizens come in.  Children who witness violent behavior on television at a young age and virtually act violent on video games as teenagers are the ones who become violent (according to this school of thought).  The Empiricism view is widely accepted due to the success of an experiment run by Dr. Vincent Matthews with his colleagues at Indiana University. Matthews used fMRI tests to scan the brain activity of 28 students.  After the initial scans, the men were asked to perform tasks with either emotional or non-emotional content.  These men were randomly assigned to play either violent shooter games or non-violent games every day for a week. After the seven days of video games, the same men were rescanned using fMRI while re-completing the same non/emotional tasks to observe differences.  Of the results, Matthews said “Behavioral studies have shown an increase in aggressive behavior after violent video games, and what we show is the physiological explanation for what the behavioral studies are showing,” The results showed those who played the violent games showed less brain activity in the areas which involve emotions.  The views of Aristotle clearly have some physiological significance to them, based on the results of Matthews study.                                                                                                  Opposing the views of Aristotle and the results of Matthews study sits the school of Nativism.  According to Plato and Socrates our thoughts, characteristics, and behaviors are all innate qualities.  Because this field of study heavily relies on genetics, most studies will look into the heritability of traits such as aggression.  In an effort to look at the genetic and environmental influences of aggression, twin male subjects were mailed subscales of the Buss-Durkee Hostility Inventory.  In the results of this study, three of the four BHDI scales demonstrated heritability among aggressive behaviors of a non-additive nature (40% -Indirect Assault, 37% -Irritability, 28% -Verbal Assault).  Because of what these BDHI scales indicate, we can technically infer that some forms of impulsive aggression can be heritable in men.                                                                                                While both Empiricism and Nativism are accepted schools of thought with evidence to support both, it’s impossible to say one is more accurate than the other.  At best, psychology will uncover behaviors, particularly aggressive and violent ones are a product of a combination of both the environment in which a person is raised and the innate characteristics with which the child is born.



4 thoughts on “Nature vs. Nurture: What Makes a Killer

  1. Katie Kirkman

    You make some interesting points throughout this post about the difference between nature and nurture. I believe that the both might have something to do with violence that people tend to show when they grow older. I like how you supported both sides of them because you’re right, it is extremely difficult to know which of them actually causes a person to have a mental breakdown and kill a person. I believe that evidence to show that nature and nurture has an influence on killers are completely different from one another. In order to show proof that nature effects a person’s killing abilities you would have to look at the genetics and history of their family, but in order to show proof that nurture has an effect one a person’s killing abilities you definitely have to do an experiment. I find this blog post very interesting because I am also taking criminology along with psych so it is very interesting to see how they can be connected and similar.

    Katie Kirkman

  2. Michael Joseph Rosa

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. I like how you presented facts from both sides of the argument to show how we still really don’t know which one has a larger effect. I have seen increasingly many studies on this topic recently as doctors and scientists are trying to determine what has been causing all of the school shootings such as the one in Newtown. With the amount of mass shootings occurring lately, it seems as if they are looking for some type of explanation. In my opinion, either side could be to blame depending on the situation. I have played my fair share of violent video games throughout my life but in no way do I consider myself a violent individual. On the other hand, playing these games, I could see how they could lead to violence in a less mature individual. In younger kids I can see how games and shows involving violence could give them a false sense of reality. If they can run around in an extremely life-like gaming shooting people, what says that they aren’t going to in real life. On the other hand, I do also believe that violent characteristics can be inborn. There are people that it seems as if they lack the ability to tell right from wrong. They show no remorse for individuals that they have hurt or killed and I find it hard to believe that they aren’t born that way. In my opinion, either could play a role, depending on the situation

  3. Jadah A Bird

    I really enjoyed your post. I like how you pulled outside studies such as Aristotle’s ideas into your post to give your work a bit more ethos. What drew me to your post is that you decided to talk about killers. Currently, I am obsessed with this show called “Dexter.” It is a dramatic television show about a man who is a serial killer but only kills other killers. While watching all 8 seasons of the show, I couldn’t help but to form my own hypothesis of the character’s mind. As a child, he witnessed his mother being chopped to pieces in an abandon storage crate, which without a doubt is why he is a serial killer. But I did notice that every lover he has every had in every season, they are all blondes with blue eyes, slim, and have a love for nature…just like his mother. I was thinking that maybe Dexter also inherited some sort of violent gene from his mother as well because I strongly believe that nature and nurture work together, one idea can’t just completely take over the other. On the other hand, he was two years old when this happened to him, and after that, he was raised in a fantastic environment…so maybe that “nurture” of seeing his mother die, acted more like “nature” because he was “born into blood” as he put it, which is probably a pun on the whole “nature” vs. “nurture” bit anyway. Did any of that make sense? If not, that was a complete waste or your valuable time reading that. I apologize.

  4. Jacqueline Rose Harpe

    I really liked how in your blog you made the point to discuss both sides of nature and nurture. Both are definitely factors that could explain the reasoning behind “what makes a serial killer”; it makes you wonder which one is more ‘powerful’. Most killers are caught and sentenced to prison or jail. Depending on the seriousness of the case, the trial may delve into deeper and bigger problems. Psychologists can be brought in to declare the defendant mentally unstable, when that may not necessarily be the case. Defendants who are wealthier can use it to their advantage to get the best psychologist to find the smallest thing wrong with them. The death penalty can easily be avoided if the accused somehow shows that he or she is not sane. Empiricism and nativism may both play a role in why someone snaps, but when it comes to proving why they snapped, the nature half may have a bigger impact.

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