Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Murder motivation

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Murder motivation:
What motivates a person to intentionally kill another?

Overview[edit | edit source]

The act of murder is a terrible thing. To kill another is a heinous crime. But why do people do it? When it comes to killing another, there are many reasons and motivations at play. Different types of murder also have different motivations behind them. As well as this, certain disorders take away any memory of committing an act, so it is hard to see where motivations are coming from. [Provide more detail]

Murder is the act of killing another without a lawful excuse (Pizzamiglio, Marino, Maugeri, Stabile, & Garofano, 2006). However, for someone to be charged with murder, the attacker must be shown to have intended to kill - the state known as 'malice aforethought' (Gavin, 2014). If the attacker did not intend to cause grievous bodily harm leading to the death of the victim, then the charge would be downgraded to manslaughter. But what motivates a person to commit such an act of malice? Any person who has committed any sort of crime has had a base motivation, a need to fulfill a task that is known to be illegal. This motivation stems from a need, and this need can be almost anything. The question is however, what motivates a person to kill another?

Motivation to do anything can be broken down into 16 facets.  These facets include things such as; idealism, independence, power, acceptance, social contact, and romance (Reiss, 2004). Each of these facets have been found to guide basic human behaviour and can be seen as the driving force behind it. In relation to the act of killing another, each of these things can easily be used as the motivation behind it. However, for this particular topic, there can be other factors to explain why a person has acted in such a terrible manner.

Types of Murder[edit | edit source]

There are dozens of different names for the different acts of killing another (Demovic, 2010); genocide – The act of killing a race, amicicide - The act of killing a friend, and matricide – The act of killing ones[grammar?] mother to name just a few. The focus, however, will be on some of the more substantial[explain?] acts of killing.

Serial Killing[edit | edit source]

The term serial killer can be defined as ‘a person who kills multiple people, without motive, for sexual or sadistic satisfaction over a prolonged period of time’ (Simons, 2001). Serial murder as defined by Egger (1984), is three or more killings, in different locations and with cooling-off periods in between each murder (Cited in Gavin, 2014, p. 109).The term has been freely used in media to describe the act of killing similar people over a large time frame, but this is not the case. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has two classifications for serial killers (Dalal, Aggarwal, Bhullar, & Sharma, 2009); organised, and disorganised. An organised serial killer is one that has put a large amount of deliberation into what they are going to do. A disorganised serial killer is one that goes out without a plan and tend to be much more violent. Things such as the act of disposal, and the efficiency of the act of killing are the primary factors that distinguish between the two types.

Holmes, Holmes, and Burger (1988) went a step further and classified serial killers into different categories describing the motivations for why they were involved in what they were doing. These included; visionary – one who is out of touch with society and does what they voices in their head tell them, mission orientated – one who is trying complete a goal by removing groups to help society, hedonistic -  one who kills and tortures for pleasure, and control-oriented – one who enjoys the power over their victims.

When it comes to serial killers, the origins of why they are involved with what they do are incredibly similar. As recorded by Dalal, Aggarwal, Bhullar, and Sharma (2009) found that there were sixteen personality traits that were shared between almost all serial killers, some of the main ones being; abusive family background, an inability to love, a lack of guilt, insecurity, and a highly impulsive nature. It was also noted that most serial killers became what they were because of negative early childhood experiences. Many of these personality traits are similar to that of psychopathy (Birbaumer et al., 2005).

A famous example of a serial killer is Theodore ‘Ted’ Bundy (Fox, & Levin, 2003). Over the span of his life, he killed over 30 people between 1974 and 1978, choosing to focus his efforts on young women. The reason he is one of the most famous serial killers of our time is not for how he went about his crimes, but for what he did with his victims after he killed them. He openly admitted to eating and sexually abusing the bodies of his victims after he had killed them[citation needed]. He was finally apprehended on the 15th of February, 1978 and was sentenced to death by electrocution.  

Mass Murders[edit | edit source]

Unlike serial killers, mass murderers are described as ‘a person or persons who kills a large amount of people in a short period of time without a break between murders’ (Reisman, 2008), and at the same location (Gavin, 2014). This can also include the term massacre as it means ‘a slaughter of a large amount of people in a single incident’. Mass murders are not to be confused with spree killing which is multiple murders that take place within the same time frame but at different locations (Gavin, 2014). The other significant differences between serial killers and mass murders are; a serial killer does it for satisfaction whereas a mass murderer goes out to cause destruction, the motivations behind both of them are completely different as well. Mass murderers motivations are seen as short term (Bowers, Holmes, & Rhom, 2010), be it from constant bullying (as seen in the Virgina Tech incident), to just wanting to cause devastation. Mass murderers tend to have strong feelings, such as rage, mistreatment, and isolation from peers, with the committed murders as an expression of revenge (Gavin, 2014). The majority of mass murders end in the perpetrator committing suicide or by forcing police to shoot them. Very few end in an arrest (Bowers, Holmes, & Rhom, 2010). Recently, there has been an outbreak in school shootings with over 150 reported incidents in the USA since 2013 (,. 2015). A large amount of these ended in no injury, but others ending in tragedy with over 20 deaths.

One of the most famous incidents of mass murder was the ‘Jonestown Massacre’ of 1978 (Moore, 2011). A cult leader of the name Jim Jones managing to convince almost his entire fellowship to commit suicide by drinking poisoned punch in retaliation to the US government’s intrusion into his ‘Utopia’. 912 people died from this poison, with another six people being shot[citation needed]. It is unclear whether Jim Jones took his own life or not as he was found with a single bullet wound to the head.

Euthanasia[edit | edit source]

Finally, in all technicalities of the word, euthanasia is a form of murder. The act of killing to relieve pain and suffering is an incredibly controversial topic that’s laws differ around the world (Goldney, 2012). There are three classifications; voluntary, non-voluntary, and involuntary (Ho, & Chantagul, 2015). Currently, voluntary euthanasia is legal in some parts of the world, but both non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia are still mostly considered murder. The motivations behind euthanasia are simple ones. It is a release from long-term pain and suffering. Voluntary euthanasia is where a person asks for it to happen. The motivations behind involuntary euthanasia however are completely different. This is when a person’s next of kin decides for a person who is unable to. The motivations for this can stem from love, and not wanting to see pain in them anymore.

As for those not related to the person, these criminal offenders are often named 'angels of death' or 'angels of mercy' and are often employed as a direct caregiver. These serial killers intentionally kill people under their care with variable motivations for the act, such as an expression of power, 'mercy killing' - believing that the victims wanted to die or would be better off not suffering, or have sadistic tendencies.

Disorders[edit | edit source]

When it comes to killing another, sometimes it is not the person’s personality that motivates them to do it. Sometimes it can come down to a person suffering from an underlying disorder which is forcing them to act differently. 

Dissociative identity Disorder[edit | edit source]

Dissociative identity disorder (or multiple identity disorder) is a condition in which there are multiple, distinct personalities that take control over an individual at different parts of their life (Stickley, & Nickeas, 2006). Each of these personalities are usually completely different, coming out in certain situations to. There have been multiple reported cases of people suffering from this disorder lashing out and causing serious bodily harm to themselves or to others. Even though it is usually lied about in courtrooms to plead insanity, there have been multiple cases of people suffering from dissociative identity disorder actually losing control of a personality and eventually killing someone.

Schizophrenia[edit | edit source]

Another incredibly serious mental disorder that is known for being dangerous is schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a disorder where a person is unable to recognise what is real and what is not (Gould et al., 2015). With symptoms such as hallucinations and false beliefs, if untreated, can cause significant harm to themselves and others around them. In a study completed by Hanlon et al, (2012), it was discovered that, after comparing sufferers who were violent with ones who were not, there were definite differences in neuropsychological impairment. The sufferers who were more violent had much greater impairment. This has great implications in both the ability to treat and recognise potential problems in the future.

To state here, it is not believed that mental illness will in fact cause violence, in most cases this does not happen[factual?]. However, it is worth reporting that it does in fact happen.[why?]

Substance Abuse[edit | edit source]

Finally, the act of abusing any sort of substance can cause serious health problems later on in life. These substances can be anything from illicit drugs like heroine, to legal ones like alcohol and prescription drugs (Hamilton, & Watson, 2014). The reason substance abuse was worth noting is because there are two fronts it can become dangerous on.  The need to procure drugs, and what people are capable of doing while on hard substances. The first is a problem unto itself. The motivations that a person who is suffering from withdrawals can be frightful. It is not unheard of for people to kill to get money to pay for their substance (Romero-Daza, Weeks, & Singer, 2003). As well as this, people high on harder drugs (such as ‘ice’ or heroine) can be completely unpredictable while they are experiencing these highs[factual?]. The scariest thing about this is that very little can cause a violent outbreak to occur. The randomness of it sometimes shows no motivation behind it except for the inability to control actions[factual?].

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

So in conclusion, there are many reasons and motivations that a person may have to kill another. The basic motivations people share to do anything are the exact same in this regard. The need to feel powerful, the need to achieve, the need for love are all examples of motivations people use to complete goals or tasks throughout their lives. When it comes to to murdering another, these motivations are at play, but have a sinister twist to them. Things such as the need to feel powerful become a need to exude force on another, the need for love turns into the need to force love on to another. Sometimes, and the scariest thing found, there is no motivation for it, people just act violent for violence sake[factual?]. As well, certain disorders can force a person to be violent without them even knowing[factual?].

See Also[edit | edit source]


Death Penalty

Religious Violence

References[edit | edit source]

1.   Birbaumer, N., Veit, R., Lotze, M., Erb, M., Hermann, C., Grodd, W., & Flor, H. (2005). Deficient Fear Conditioning in Psychopathy. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 62(7), 799.

2.   Bowers, T. G., Holmes, E. S., & Rhom, A. (2010). The Nature of Mass Murder and Autogenic Massacre. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology. doi:10.1007/s11896-009-9059-6

3.   Dalal, J. S., Aggarwal, K. K., Bhullar, D. S., & Sharma, M. (2009). A CASE STUDY OF SERIAL KILLERS. Journal Of Punjab Academy Of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology9(2), 109-113.

4.   Demovic, A. R. (2010). Honor, Shame, and European Definitions of Murder In Honor of Fadime: Murder and Shame . Unni Wikan. Current Anthropology. doi:10.1086/653513

5.,. (2015). The long, shameful list of school shootings in America. Retrieved from*

6.   Fox, J. A., & Levin, J. (2003). Mass Murder: An Analysis of Extreme Violence. Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies. doi:10.1023/A:1021051002020

7. Gavin, H. (2014). "Criminological and Forensic Psychology". Sage Publications.

8.    Goldney, R. D. (2012). Neither euthanasia nor suicide, but rather assisted death. Australian And New Zealand Journal Of Psychiatry46(3), 185-187. doi:10.1177/0004867411432080

9.    Gould, F., McGuire, L. S., Durand, D., Sabbag, S., Larrauri, C., Patterson, T. L., & ... Harvey, P. D. (2015). Self-assessment in schizophrenia: Accuracy of evaluation of cognition and everyday functioning. Neuropsychology29(5), 675-682. doi:10.1037/neu0000175

10.   Hamilton, I., & Watson, J. (2014). Managing substance use in the practice. Practice Nursing25(10), 480-485 6p.

11.  Hanlon, R., Coda, J., Cobia, D., & Rubin, L. (2012). Psychotic Domestic Murder: Neuropsychological Differences Between Homicidal and Nonhomicidal Schizophrenic Men. Journal Of Family Violence27(2), 105-113. doi:10.1007/s10896-011-9410-4

12.  Ho, R., & Chantagul, N. (2015). Support for Voluntary and Nonvoluntary Euthanasia: What Roles Do Conditions of Suffering and the Identity of the Terminally Ill Play?.Omega: Journal Of Death & Dying70(3), 251-277. doi:10.1177/0030222815568958

13.   Holmes, R. M., Burger, J. D., & Holmes, S. T. (1988). Inside the mind of the serial murder. American Journal of Criminal Justice. doi:10.1007/BF02890847

14.  Moore, R. (2011). The Stigmatized Deaths in Jonestown: Finding a Locus for Grief. Death Studies35(1), 42-58. doi:10.1080/07481181003772465

15.  Pizzamiglio, M., Marino, A., Maugeri, G., Stabile, M., & Garofano, L. (2006). The importance of a well defined analytical strategy to solve complex murder cases. International Congress Series, 1288, 642-644.

16.  Reisman, W. M. (2008). ACTING BEFORE VICTIMS BEFORE VICTIMS: PREVENTING AND ARRESTING MASS MURDER. (cover story). Case Western Reserve Journal Of International Law, 40(1/2), 57-85.

17.  Reiss, S. (2004). Multifaceted Nature of Intrinsic Motivation: The Theory of 16 Basic Desires. Review of General Psychology. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.8.3.179

18.  Romero-Daza, N., Weeks, M., & Singer, M. (2003). 'Nobody Gives a Damn if I Live or Die': Violence, Drugs, And Street-Level Prostitution in Inner-City Hartford, Connecticut. Medical Anthropology22(3), 233-259. doi:10.1080/01459740306770

19.  Stickley, T., & Nickeas, R. (2006). Becoming one person: living with dissociative identity disorder. Journal Of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing13(2), 180-187 8p. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2850.2006.00939.x