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  • Are some people born evil?

  • We've all seen the damage one person can do, be they a serial killer who stalks and

  • murders countless people over decades, or a mad tyrant who takes over a country and

  • leads the population to turn on their own and kill millions.

  • But where do these people come from?

  • Are they the product of their atmosphere - or are they born rotten somehow and destined

  • to become menaces to society?

  • Who we are is made up of a complex series of factors.

  • But what makes a monster?

  • Scientists have been studying the pathology of evil for a long time, with the FBI even

  • having a research facility nicknamed theEvil Minds Research Museum”, filled with artifacts

  • from some of the darkest killers they've ever encountered.

  • Not open to the public, it's mostly used by researchers who provide the FBI with information

  • on how serial killers are born.

  • Scientists analyze letters, diaries, and paintings from the worst serial killers in history,

  • hoping for a clue to what turned them from nobody to monster.

  • They've found clues - but no silver bullets.

  • One common factor they've found in many of the worst serial killers is that they have

  • early childhood trauma that makes them more likely to lash out at specific targets.

  • These traumas may create lasting impressions on the brain that warp their minds and create

  • a serial killer where there wouldn't be one before - but the opposing argument is

  • that countless other people experience early childhood trauma and either show no signs

  • of it, or express it in ways that don't cause the same level of damage.

  • Do all of the worst killers have a traumatic turning point in their lives?

  • Many do.

  • The famous serial killer Ted Bundy spent his early years in what seemed like a typical

  • family, with a pair of parents and a much older sister who was already an adult when

  • he was born.

  • But there was a dark secret lurking in his family tree.

  • Hissisterwas actually his mother, and hisparentswere his grandparents

  • who sent his mother to a home for unwed mothers when she was pregnant and raised him as their

  • own son.

  • While he spoke fondly of his grandparents, witnesses said his grandfather was an abusive

  • bully.

  • But after he discovered the truth about his family and his killing spree began, Bundy

  • seemed to aim his hatred directly at one group - young women and girls.

  • The targets of serial killers vary - and it may be linked to this childhood trauma.

  • John Wayne Gacy, the notorious clown-themed killer who was executed for killing at least

  • twelve young men and boys, had a loving relationship with his mother and two sisters.

  • But his father was a different story - an abusive drunk who was a threat to everyone

  • in the family.

  • From an early age, Gacy's father zeroed in on his son, beating and belittling him.

  • He particularly liked throwing homophobic insults at Gacy and predicting he would turn

  • out gay.

  • Gacy, an overweight child with a heart condition, was later molested by a family friend.

  • Gacy's killing spree exclusively targeted young men and boys - and all his childhood

  • trauma was linked to abuse from other men.

  • But not all serial killers follow the same pattern.

  • The BTK killer was one of the most notorious serial killers in American history, having

  • killed between 1974 and 2005 - even taking a thirteen-year break in the middle before

  • resuming his murders.

  • By the time the unassuming Dennis Rader was arrested, he was responsible for ten murders

  • - but those looking for clues in his childhood would find them few and far between.

  • He was one of four sons born to hard-working parents, and while he felt his parents neglected

  • him by working long hours, there was no evidence of abuse or neglect.

  • That didn't stop him from deeply resenting his mother for supposedly abandoning him,

  • and from an early age he was consumed by fantasies about sex, torture, and murder.

  • He liked to kill and torture young animals, and spied on female neighbors before he graduated

  • to killing.

  • He was in control of his obsessions enough that most people who met him thought he was

  • a nice, normal man.

  • He married, had two children, and even worked as a Cub Scout leader - all the while living

  • a secret life as a serial killer.

  • So is there any common factor to what makes a serial killer?

  • Scientists have studied countless killers, both household names and unknowns, to try

  • to find a link.

  • One thing they've found many have in common is a lack of empathy.

  • Psychologists have argued that this is the true definition of a psychopath - someone

  • who has a consistent lack of empathy, guilt, and remorse.

  • Many, like Dr. Kent Kiehl of the University of New Mexico, have argued that psychopaths

  • are mentally ill and need treatment and increased research - but many politicians are hesitant

  • to agree with this given that the most famous psychopaths are killers.

  • Still, scientists have found some major clues.

  • Dr. Kiehl's laboratory features a mobile brain scanner that he has used to examine

  • the brains of many accused and convicted killers.

  • One pattern he's observed in some is deficiencies in the para-limbic system.

  • Known as a behavioral circuit that includes the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, this part

  • of the brain works to process emotions.

  • In the past, people who suffered injuries to this part of the brain have seen their

  • behavior change, with others finding them to suddenly become cold and antisocial.

  • But many of these cases didn't have an injury - they just seemed to have naturally low activity

  • in this part of the brain.

  • This raised the possibility that those born with a defect in this part of the brain might

  • be predisposed to become killers.

  • But it wasn't a universal trait.

  • Is there another key that can create a serial killer?

  • The enzyme Monoamine Oxidase A, commonly known as MAO-A, became famous when it was cited

  • on the TV drama Riverdale as the notoriousserial killer gene”.

  • But the truth is more complicated.

  • This is a gene that increases the chemical reactions that regulate neurotransmitters

  • like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine - all of which affect our mood and emotions.

  • Lower levels of MAO-A have been shown in some studies to increase the rate of depression.

  • But another link to behavior has gained more attention.

  • The MAO-A gene has been shown to increase antisocial behavior - but other factors were

  • commonly associated, including childhood abuse and high testosterone.

  • This gene has been given another name - the Warrior gene.

  • People with a low-activity variant of the MAO-A gene have been shown to display disproportionate

  • aggression, responding with greater force in experiments when they feel wrong.

  • The idea that this gene makes people more likely to be violent has even been used in

  • court, with the defense a murder trial in 2009 claiming that the subject's “warrior

  • geneand traumatic childhood made them not responsible.

  • While they were convicted and sentenced to thirty-two years in prison, they managed to

  • beat the top charge and avoid the death penalty.

  • So is there truly a common link between the worst people to ever live?

  • Many of the most notorious killers like HH Holmes and Albert Fish, along with brutal

  • dictators like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Vlad Tepes died long before their DNA

  • could be analyzed for common factors.

  • Some had brutal and abusive childhoods, while others had far less traumatic upbringings.

  • The lack of any common link between the worst people in the world has made philosophers

  • wonder whether humanity has an inherent nature - good or evil.

  • The debate goes back to two famous philosophers.

  • Thomas Hobbes had a cynical view of humanity, claiming they were a nasty and brutish people

  • who needed a strictly regimented society to make them rein in their instincts.

  • A century later, Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a more optimistic view, claiming that it was

  • only society's influences that led to greed, cruelty, and inequality and that we would

  • be inherently good without it.

  • The debate continues to this day - but what does the evidence show?

  • Many experts believe that the best way to test the nature of humanity is to start at

  • the beginning - with babies.

  • After all, these are the purest canvas of humanity, with few influences to turn them

  • in one direction yet.

  • Of course, babies aren't the best test subjects - what with the crying and inability to communicate

  • - but clever scientists developed a test to judge if they have a moral compass.

  • They showed them cartoons with colorful puppets in the shapes of circles, squares, and triangles.

  • The shapes engaged in a morality play, with one shape trying to hurt the other and the

  • third helping to protect the innocent shape.

  • When asked after the show to pick which shape they wanted to play with, these children - all

  • under a year old - all chose the heroic shape.

  • But could this have been determined by other factors, like attraction to a color?

  • The scientists wanted to make sure the experiment was as scientific as possible, so they repeated

  • the experiment with other subjects and flipped the alignments of the shapes.

  • Sure enough, the babies all chose the heroic shape again - even though it was a different

  • one.

  • This was an indication that they were attracted not to the shape or color, but to the friendly

  • actions.

  • This was an early indication that babies do have an inherent moral compass - and it's

  • on the good side of the spectrum.

  • So what is the tipping line between good and evil?

  • Profilers have been searching for that answer for decades, and have found many possible

  • answers - but no concrete ones.

  • Environmental factors, like an abusive childhood and isolation, seem to contribute.

  • As does early-life trauma like bullying or being a victim of sexual abuse.

  • A correlation has been shown with certain genetic factors, but not specifically with

  • becoming a serial killer.

  • Is anyone truly born evil?

  • There doesn't seem to be any evidence for that - but we also don't have the answer

  • for the point when they turn evil.

  • Which means these wild cards can emerge at any time - and the experts continue to battle

  • to stop them.

  • For a profile of one of history's greatest killers, check outMost Evil Man - Joseph

  • Stalinor watchThe Most Evil Kids in the History of Mankindfor a look at when

  • evil starts young.

Are some people born evil?

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Were You Born Evil

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    Summer posted on 2021/05/16
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