Trending News: New links drawn between the psychopathology of serial killers and gender
A recent study published in Penn State News suggests that male and female serial killers have unique differences. Psychological evolution could explain why male and female serial killers seem to think and behave differently.
To find out whether those differences were universal for all men and women, Men’s Variety spoke to licensed psychologist Dr. Farrah Hauke, Psy.D. for her analysis:
“It is my professional opinion that both sexes are equally attentive and capable, it’s just that men and women attend (both consciously and unconsciously) to different things,” Hauke said.
According to the Penn State study, it comes down to our hunter/gatherer roots. Males tend to hunt their victims while females gather their victims.
Victims of male serial killers were often strangers, but female killers tended to rely on their existing network of associates.
The study was conducted by psychologists at Penn State and hopes to aid in solving murder investigations in the near future.
Men and Women: The Differences
Marissa Harrison is one of the researchers who worked on the project and she believes that the results could save time and consequently save lives. By profiling the patterns of killers along gender lines, it could make solving investigations a more streamlined process.
“If a murder has been committed without a known suspect, you can sometimes use details of the crime to form a profile of what the perpetrator might look like,” Harrison said. “So if you know that men are more likely to commit a crime in a certain way and women are more likely to do it another, hopefully it can help investigators go down the correct path.”
Her interest in studying serial killers led Harrison toward some of humanity’s most basic instincts and urges. For most of our known history, men hunted for food, sometimes requiring them to travel great distances.
Women tended to remain closer to their dwelling and gather resources from their local surroundings. Murder victims are hardly considered “food” or “resources” but the psychological motives behind serial killer behavior seem to be linked.
Nuts and Bolts of Research
The Penn State research team used media data from 55 females and 55 male serial killers in the United States. They found that the male killers were 6 times as likely to kill a stranger and 65 percent of male serial killers hunted or stalked their victims. Female killers were twice as likely to kill an acquaintance and less than 4 percent of women stalked their victims.
This study is remarkably similar to a Swedish study conducted back in 2016 that also studied cognitive and behavioral differences between men and women who committed deadly violence. It was published in the International Journal of Forensic Mental Health.
The group of Swedish researchers looked at the differences and similarities between male and female perpetrators.
That team found that female killers most often used knives, attacked men who had previously abused them, and ninety-percent of the murders took place in the home. This data seems to support the results of the more recent Penn State study.
So, do men and women think and behave differently in general or is this just true for perpetrators of violent crimes?
Research from several different studies pinpoint specific differences in the way men and women think, but there is little consensus on a disparity between the way men and women behave. There’s just too much nuance in human behavior, but our brains are hardwired differently.
A scholarly paper published in the journal Vision Research found that during a study on focus and distraction, women tended to pay closer attention to nonverbal cues and outside distractions than men. The women in the study also became easily distracted when more social data was present such as someone new coming into the room.
Although hardly conclusive, it’s believed that women seek out more universal and comprehensive information about their surroundings. Men “zero-in” so to speak on what they believe to be the primary target.
Men and women also navigate differently. Two experiments were conducted by researchers at UC Santa Barbara and their findings were published in 2018.
The lead researcher, Alexander Boone, stated – “As predicted from previous research, these experiments showed that men were more likely to take shortcuts and on average reached their goal location faster than women.
In contrast, female participants were more likely to follow learned routes and wander,” explains Boone. “In both experiments, men were significantly more efficient than women, even after controlling for the effects of strategy.”
Men tend to be more goal-oriented than women, preferring to focus on specific tasks with easily-measured outcomes while women take a more holistic approach to problem solving.
Women tend to be more communicative than men and boast a higher level of emotional intelligence. Men see less value in same sex social interactions than women.
They’re also more likely to exhibit lone wolf behavior; a potential red-flag for psychopathic tendencies.
Hauke, the Arizona psychologist cited earlier in this piece shared the following with MV: “There are both biological and societal reasons for this.”
So, it’s possible that the differences in the way men and women think could lead to different behavior. The researchers at Penn State and Dr. Hauke seem to agree on that matter. However, Dr. Hauke’s insights point to other factors than just our ancestral instincts.
Dr. Hauke went on to add, “Men tend to be more analytical, visual, and structural in their analysis of stimuli whereas women tend to have greater sensitivity to the nuances of non-verbal and verbal communication.
There are long-standing evolutionary reasons for this, but probably more so in today’s society, more socialized reasons for these differences.
In other words, men and women are often (consciously or unconsciously) reinforced for attending to different things as children and these patterns tend to persist into adulthood.”
Gender norms aren’t just constructed from our DNA and ancestry. In fact, it's difficult to pinpoint specific differences among the sexes in a global society that has resoundingly rejected gender norms.
In 2018, the British government opened all branches of combat forces to enrollment by women. A year later, transgender personnel are now allowed to serve openly in the US armed forces.
Perhaps there will be fewer gender-specific studies soon as our thought patterns and behaviors become increasingly gender neutral.
That’s not to say that everyone will become gender fluid or that serial killers will change their patterns of behavior, but people are becoming more sophisticated.
We are exposed to different walks of life and ways of thinking which make gender-specific profiling much more difficult.