When you are binge-watching a serial killer documentary (we know you do- everyone does), do you also feel the eerie presence of the protagonist right in your life, at that moment? While it's immensely intriguing, the reasons for this cathartic experience are much more psychological.
Serial Killers have been part of pop culture since the mid-1970s. Real-life serial killers have been transformed into celebrity monsters thanks to news and entertainment media’s widespread, cheesy coverage of murder mysteries. But many people still question – why this form of content feeds the public’s appetite?
Well, research has revealed that the masses’ fascination with serial killers is more of a guilty pleasure. An average person who socializes cannot comprehend the workings of a pathological mind. The curiosity of “why” – why would serial killers do incredibly horrible things to strangers – makes all of us want to know more about the phenomenon incidents.
What is it about Serial Killers that gets us Excited?
Serial killers appeal to our primary and most potent instinct, which is survival. Our intense curiosity stems up from the unnatural behaviours of serial killers. What entices us the most is the way they choose their victims randomly, either by personal attraction or sudden opportunities.
Their behaviour is driven by inner “demons” (insecurities, in most cases) that none of us can comprehend. The serial killer identifies as a mirror reflection of our society. They have a broody, complex, and compelling nature that draws us to know more about them.
Sadism and Sadistic Tendencies of a Serial Killer
A sadist is defined as a person who derives pleasure from inflicting pain or humiliation on others. The sadistic impulses are usually present in many people and not just in violent criminals. David Chester, who graduated with a doctorate in experimental psychology, states that sadistic tendencies are associated with aggressive behaviour.
A group of researchers examined 2000 people who wanted to seek vengeance. They found that revenge scenarios included making victims eat hot sauce or blasting them with loud noises. Sadistic individuals are reported to have a negative emotion after an aggressive act. They feel high on energy momentously, but the pleasure quickly fades away and is replaced by pain after the deed is done.
Some of us are fascinated by true crime and the inhuman motivations of those who commit these lurid crimes. Hybristophilia is defined as a condition where sexual arousal is linked to a partner who might be drawn to serial killers and is interested in having romantic relationships with them.
The Ugly Side of Serial Killers
Ted Bundy received hundreds of love letters, and Richard Ramirez -the Night Stalker – allegedly married one of his fans. There is a common ‘bad boy’ desire and attraction to deviance, which triggers neurotransmitter norepinephrine release, increasing arousal and attention.
There is an unsaid desire that women feel, that they can “change” the bad boys. With the fascination of wanting to understand their darkness, many women find serial killers mysterious and intriguing. Serial killers are found to be charming, alluring, risk-takers- the qualities that women tend to be attracted to.
Adrenaline Rush in watching Serial Killers in action?
Serial killers excite and enthral people. We experience an adrenaline or endorphin rush as a result of fear as well. As an enticing and charming man, Ted Bundy was found to be non-threatening. The women he abducted saw him as a normal good-looking man who was approachable.
His motivations were unbeknownst as he wore a sling on his arm to make it seem like he needed help. There is evidence that exposure to violence as a child encourages violent behaviours later in killers’ lives. Many serial killers have been diagnosed with some sort of neurological disorder. Their repetitive spree of killings stems from reacting to chemicals in their brains rather than on pure evil.
The Psychology of a Serial Killer
Understanding the psychology of a serial killer is intriguing as well as frightening. Serial killers tend to be neglected in their infancy period, which is when their personality starts forming. Serial killers lack self-control when they begin their crimes.
Psychopathy is linked to thrill-seeking- more prone to hatred and contempt. Some have vulnerable dark traits that overlap with Borderline personality disorder and narcissism. Psychopaths require excitement and thrill because of an impairment in their ability to feel arousal and anxiety.
Psychologists agree that psychopaths commit sexual homicide because they are motivated by hatred. Many serial killers are driven by misogyny- it stems from their childhood trauma reflected by their hatred for women in their family.
The Good and the Evil
As kids, we are drawn between good and evil. We are fascinated by crime as it is equated with our fear of crime. People watch true crime documentaries as a guilty pleasure, while also learning how not to be victims of such crimes.
Yet, we are weirdly obsessed with serial killers – we feel comfort and compassion for the victims. We try to humanize the serial killer to make him/her less scary and see him/her as one of us, no matter how frightening it may seem.