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July 6th, 2008

[locked/work] mmm, dopamine

ABC News doesn't know the difference between a serial killer and a spree killer.

So it's Sunday afternoon and I'm sitting here watching TV and thinking about serial killers, which I guess is the hazard of the job. If it's still my job. I mean, I guess if I can't qual physically, I can still consult.

But anyway. There's a lot of confusion in the media about how serial killers work. Most of the misinformation revolves around the idea that they each follow a consistent M.O., or exhibit particular signatures or quirks, or have an invariable victimology, or keep grisly trophies, or insert themselves into investigations. And while it's true that a significant percentage of them do each of those things, those traits aren't diagnostic. Nor do they necessarily go out in search of their prey; some are more like... trap-door spiders. 

Not all of them evolve, perfect their enactment of an irresistable fantasy. But a lot do. Not all of them are abuse survivors, but a lot are. Not all of them are men, but most are. Not all of them are American--in fact, as the world becomes more connected, it turns out that there are serial killers just about everywhere. They're not a modern phenomenon, no matter what certain amateur Ripperologists may maintain.Not all of them exhibit all or part of the so-called homicidal triad as children. But a lot do.

My job is all about playing those percentages.

If the theory that serial killers get habituated (functionally, become addicts) to killing holds true--that is, if they start as children, maybe starting fires, hurting animals--things that give them a sense of power, a dopamine buzz--and they develop those early experiments into bigger and better fantasies that give them a bigger and better dopamine cookie, and of course there's the additional thrill of flouting authority, of getting away with something forbidden, of being bad--then it's obvious what makes them come back and do it again. All that power and control feels awesome.

It's exactly the same thing as when you get off a roller coaster giddy and laughing and thinking do it again, do it again. Or when you try to kiss a girl you really wanted to kiss, and she kisses you back.

Huh. And now I wonder if spree killers have a less active prefrontal cortex (instrumental in rationally inhibiting costly impulsive behavior) than serials.

Your prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that reminds you of the consequences of your actions. I suspect it's not coincidence that the prefrontal cortex doesn't actually finish development until the early twenties. (Hey, that means there's still hope for mine!)

So maybe the right kind of early trauma can inhibit that development, or maybe what happens is that a kid who is under stress and getting his pleasure from hurting other things in response to that stress habituates his own brain to enjoy that kind of pain. That's some creepiness, that is.

The really interesting question, for me, is what makes them what they are? And how does it relate to what makes, you know, our guys what they are?

We also see some consistency in the way our guys get broken--a preliminary trauma, a later trauma, a mythology that seems to relate to (or parallel) the psychopathic sexual sadist's iterative ideations--fantasy culminating in reality. But unlike a psychopathic sexual sadist, our guys have the means to make their reality as good and fulfilling as the fantasy was. They don't have to approximate.

Saito could get it perfect every time.

So, you know, I'm thinking maybe the It feels pretty good, too. I mean, it's got to, right? I know it feels good when I solve a problem or get a mental click. It makes me want to do it again. And that happens to everybody, right?

Including the monsters.