Sociology and Psychology are pertinent to law because framing laws for the
society requires an understanding of the way the human mind and the society
works. It helps us predict and identify problems in the society and tackle them
in an appropriate way. It ensures administration in the smoothest way, and it
ensures justice to victims of crimes.
Similar to how we study these subjects and relate them to law, it is also
important to study these subjects to get a deeper understanding of crime and
criminals. When we see a criminal, all we see is someone who committed a crime.
But this criminal is a person who mightíve gone through traumatic experiences
that pushed them to develop criminalistic tendencies.
The objective of this research paper is not to sympathise with criminals but
instead to use case studies to see how social and psychological factors
contribute to the making of a criminal and to challenge our traditional views of
criminals being born that way.
Contribution Of Mental Illness And Societal Factors To Criminal Behaviour
Brief Case Study Of Ted Bundy
- As suggested by a renowned American sociologist Robert K. Merton in his
theory of anomie- criminal behaviour is a result of the criminalís failure
to fulfil his goals by means that are acceptable by the society. When such a
person is unable to attain their goal, they resort to using other means-
that may not be socially or legally acceptable- to fulfil their initial
objectives. The purview of conflict theories holds that those in power tend
to obey to the laws in a country in order to serve their own selfish
- According to Sigmund Freud, human nature contains a large reservoir of
instinctual drives (the "id") that demands instant gratification. These
desires for instant gratification are tempered by moral and ethical codes
(the "superego") that children internalise as a result of their strong
commitment to and affection for their parents. Adults create a logical part
of their personality (the "ego") that mediates between desires of the id and
the superego's constraints. Since the id is a relatively constant drive,
crime is thought to be the result of the superego's failure, as a result of
its incomplete growth. The empirical evidence for this hypothesis, however,
- Various hypotheses have been suggested by researchers to investigate the
social and environmental factors that affect or drive individuals to commit
crime. Some theories attribute criminal activity to factors such as
community dynamics, pressure from societal goals and social institutions,
and the emergence of subcultural networks. Some theories attribute criminal
influences to factors such as rational choice, feelings of being
disproportionately marginalised in comparison to peers, and different
biological and social components. There are also hypotheses that investigate
why people do not commit crimes, such as relationship strength and trust in
the rule of law.
- A central psychological theory is behavioural theory, which holds that
committing a crime is a learned reaction to circumstances. Cognitive theory,
which investigates how people solve problems through moral growth and
information processing, is another important theory. When investigating
criminal behaviour, psychological theories examine personality
characteristics such as extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, openness,
and conscientiousness. They also investigate the idea of the psychopathic
personality, in which an individual can engage in criminal thrill-seeking
behaviour to compensate for low arousal levels. According to research,
personality characteristics such as aggression, narcissism, and impulsivity
are associated with criminal and delinquent conduct.
- Taking an extreme case of criminal behaviour portrayed by serial
killers, there have been attempts at drawing up a rough psychological
profile of serial killers in order to aid the process of catching or at the
very least understanding one but it is difficult to objectively draw up a
profile since all serial killers cannot be put into a box. However, some
serial killers share characteristics such as thrill seeking, a lack of
remorse or shame, impulsivity, a desire for dominance, and predatory
behaviour. These characteristics and behaviours are representative of a
psychopathic personality disorder.
- Dr. Robert Hare led the modern research initiative to create a set of
evaluation methods to measure the personality characteristics and behaviours
associated with psychopaths. Dr. Hare and his colleagues created the
Psychopathy Check List Revised (PCL-R) and its derivatives, which offer a
clinical measure of an individual's level of psychopathy
These instruments assess an individual's distinct set of personality
characteristics and socially deviant habits, which are classified into four
categories: interpersonal, affective, lifestyle, and anti-social. Glibness,
false charm, a grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological deception, and
coercion of others are examples of interpersonal characteristics. A lack of
remorse and/or guilt, superficial affect, a lack of empathy, and an
inability to take responsibility are among the affective characteristics.
Stimulation-seeking behaviour, impulsivity, irresponsibility, parasite
orientation, and a lack of achievable life goals are examples of lifestyle
habits. Bad behavioural controls, early childhood conduct disorders,
juvenile delinquency, revocation of conditional release, and criminal
versatility are examples of anti-social activities.
- The connection between psychopathy and serial killers is especially
intriguing. Not all psychopaths become serial killers. Rather, serial
killers can exhibit some or all of the characteristics associated with
psychopathy. Serial killer psychopaths have little regard for human life and
are highly callous in their encounters with their victims. This is
especially true of sexually driven serial killers who regularly pursue,
stalk, attack, and kill with no remorse. However, psychopathy alone does not
justify a serial killer's motives.
- The serial killer is often neglected during critical stages of
childhood, when the formation of the human personality begins. These
criminals are also economically disadvantaged when they reach adolescence,
mostly as a result of neglect and parental issues. Serial killers also lack
self-control and other essential characteristics of a law-abiding citizen.
It seems that socialisation plays a significant role in pushing these simply
mentally ill people over the edge.
Brief Case Study Of The Night Stalker
- Between 1974 and 1978 in the United States of America, Ted Bundy was a
cunning and charismatic psychopath who abducted, raped, and murdered more
than 30 women in seven states. He would usually approach his victims in
public places, pretending to be injured or disabled or impersonating an
authority figure, before overpowering and attacking them in secluded areas.
He returned to his victims on occasion, grooming and performing sexual acts
on their decomposing bodies until putrefaction and degradation by wild
animals rendered any further interaction impossible.
- Bundy had a simple childhood as per him, but taking a closer look at
some odd anecdotes told by those around him is important as it gives us a
peek at his psyche. One of his aunts had once reported waking up in the
middle of the night to find that her nephew was placing knives around her. A
psychologist, when asked about this, was of the opinion that such behaviour
is usually only exhibited by those who have either experienced first-hand
abuse or witnessed some sort of trauma.
He had a strained relationship with his stepfather and he had a strong sense
of dislike for him, and would often be hit when he acted out. He was also
not particularly fond of his mother because there were rumours that he was
an illegitimate child and he felt humiliated because of this fact. He didnít
fit in at school and was described as a loner, he didnít get picked for the
sports teams, and experienced mediocrity in the sphere of academics.
Moreover, he depicted signs of his violent streak from an early age; he
liked to dig holes that doubled as traps so people could fall into them, and
also hit a Boy Scout on the head with a stick once. He enjoyed books filled
gore and descriptive rape and murder. He had shoplifted, forged tickets, and
gotten involved in theft in his teenage years. What is perhaps most
concerning is that fact that he started spying on strangers, and such
voyeurism is often considered a precursor to sexual violence.
- He was incapable of feeling pity or regret because he lacked
interpersonal empathy. He had little regard for human life and was
unconcerned about the repercussions of his actions. In his encounters with
his victims, he was callous, indifferent, and incredibly violent. The prime
objective of a killer like him is to control his victims. Bundy found sexual
arousal in torturing his prey, but the act of murder was his most rewarding
and final show of power and control over his victims.
Raping his victims was a way to dominate and control them, but the very act
was not motivated by lust. Bundy was driven to kill by obsessive homicidal
hallucinations, and he was forced to do so repeatedly to fulfil his awful
urges. However, the cruel and messy experience of murder never completely
fulfilled Bundy's imagination. In reality, the aftermath of murder normally
resulted in an emotional let-down for him, but the fantasy remained because
it was so deeply rooted in his mind and psyche.
- Both psychological (obsession with porn, lack of empathy, etc) and
sociological factors (disturbed home, inability to fit in, etc), as we can
see from the discussion above, played a key role in making Ted Bundy the
criminal he was. The question that arises next is; what impact did Bundy
have on the society and the psychology of the people? An obvious response,
is the steep rise in fear in the mind of people because of the horrible
crimes committed by him.
However, another phenomenon was witnessed in the society during and after
Bundyís court trial. Swayed by his good looks and charm, many women were
willing to ignore his crimes and others genuinely believed he was innocent,
even in the face of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
This led to the formulization of something known as the Bundy Effect, which
is the uncanny ability to represent yourself in different ways, fluidly and
convincingly, in order to achieve what you want. Aside from the anxiety in
the minds of the people and the romanticization of a seemingly charming
serial killer, the American society underwent a change in the 1970s. Before
the 1970s, the society was relatively safer and people seldom locked their
doors or windows and happenings of rape or murder werenít that often.
However, in the same period as Bundy, with the increase in number of
hitchhikers and thus the increase in ease of finding vulnerable victims,
several serial killers came to power. The society became mistrusting of
others, and the anxiety and fear were at an all-time high. People started
locking their doors and being careful of those around them, women had to
stop going out after a certain time to ensure their safety. Though it seems
like a minute, unsubstantial change- it changed the dynamic of the American
society from that moment forth.
- Richard Ramirez, more popularly known as the Night Stalker, was a
notorious serial killer and serial rapist. He was known to break into houses
at night, and murder and rape the residents of that house. He claimed 13
victims before he was captured in August of the year 1985 and was later
convicted on all 13 murder charges, 5 attempted murder charged, 11 charges
of sexual assault and 14 burglaries. He was sentenced to die in a gas
chamber in California and passed away due to complications from lymphoma
while awaiting execution on death row.
- Ramirez suffered from Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder or
ADHD. He, according to a well-known psychiatrist, also suffered from several
head injuries before the age of 6 years that led to development of temporal
lobe epilepsy, aggressivity and hypersexuality. Moreover, Ramirez as a child
was trapped in an abusive environment wherein, he had to bear witness to his
fatherís bursts temper and physical and mental attacks on him and his
family. Ramirez revealed to an interviewer once that he often slept in a
cemetery to escape his fatherís temper.
- Ramirez became estranged from his immediate family when he was 12 years
old, and he grew closer to his older cousin Miguel Ramirez, who had fought
as a soldier in the Vietnam War. Mike returned with hundreds of war stories
and gruesome Polaroids ó trophies from his own escapades beating, raping,
and murdering people. One of Ramirez's favourites was a gruesome picture of
Mike holding a rape victim's severed head up to his crotch, which Ramirez
allegedly used to pleasure himself. He also witnessed Mike shooting his wife
Jessie in the head, that resulted in her death.
Mike even introduced Richard to drugs, prostitution and they often went on
burglary expeditions together.
From the incidence of Ramirez using the Polaroid of Mike holding a rape
victimís severed head to his groin to pleasure himself- it is evident that
he harboured violent sexual fantasies. Mikeís influence and presence in
Ramirezís life introduced him to the violence and made him think that power
and violence are not only acceptable, but also desirable.
This phenomenon is referred to by psychologists as Social Learning Theory,
and it occurs when a combination of environmental and cognitive stimuli
reinforces observational learning, resulting in new behaviours, habits, and
attitudes. Ramirez eased into his violent side because of what he witnessed
all around him and psychologically, that played a major role in making him
the criminal he was.
- As a teenager, Ramirez attempted to rape a woman at the Holiday Inn he
was working at but was not successful because her husband beat him and drove
him away. He claimed his first victim in April of 1984- a 9-year-old girl,
Mei Leung, whose body was found hanging in the basement of the hotel he was
residing in. In addition to his assaults on adults, he would abduct and rape
children. He would yank them from their beds, take them to a remote
location, assault them, and then abandon them. Anastasia Hronas, one of the
6-year-old survivors, would later be critical in finding him in a line-up
after he was captured.
- As he caused more harm, Ramirez became more fascinated by and involved
in Satanism. Crime scenes began to be vandalised further, with inverted
pentagrams drawn on walls with a victim's lipstick, the same pentagrams
drawn on victims' bodies, and he'd also compel victims to "swear on Satan"
that they wouldn't scream or hide valuables from him.
- Several psychological studies and research have shown that adults who
were abused as children are three times more likely to act aggressively, and
that male serial killers are more likely to be abused or rejected as
children, and this was backed by the particulars of Richard Ramirezís life.
Ramirez, according to psychiatrist Michael H. Stone, is a 'made' psychopath
rather than a 'born' psychopath. He claims that Ramirez's schizoid
personality disorder led to his indifference to his victims' suffering and
his untreatable condition.
- In an interview with A&E, criminologist and serial killer researcher Dr.
Scott Bonn said that "sex and crime were all a grand adventure for him." He
went on to say that there is no real "one-size-fits-all" nature to
characterise serial killers, but Ramirez was clearly a "thrill killer" who
made his decision on the spot with no forethought or preparation ó only a
desire for aggression.
- Ramirez reportedly scored 31 out of a possible 40 on the Hare test,
placing him at the higher end of the scale used to assess typical
psychopathic behaviours such as lack of empathy, impulsivity, deception, and
sexual deviance, among others.
- Richard Ramirez, as can be seen from the discussion above, was forged
into a criminal because of the several social and psychological factors
present throughout his life.
His ADHD made him impulsive, his abusive family and surroundings predisposed
him to violent behaviour, his cousin Mike exposed him to a mixture of
violence and sex, and as Dr.Stone said- his schizoid personality disorder
made him indifferent to his victimsí suffering. Richard was a psychopath who
indulged in criminal behaviour as a result of the various key factors that
pushed him to that life and the trauma he experienced in his childhood.
His fascination with sex and violence from a young age were transformed into
fantasies because of his cousinís influence and because of all the criminal
activity they indulged in together Ramirez gained the confidence and will to
transform his violently sexual fantasies to actual crimes of murdering and
These brief case studies on two of the most notorious and terrifying serial
killers of all time make us ponder upon whether if these people would have been
on a different path if they had had a different social environment in their
lives. Would Ramirez still have been a serial killer if his father wasnít
abusive and if Mike was a normal, loving cousin instead of a soldier who enjoyed
raping and drugs? Would Bundy still have killed all those women if he didnít
have easy access to porn from a young age and if he didnít have a disturbed
Most research papers tend to answer questions. However, the objective of this
research paper was to present information that would challenge our traditional
view on criminals and make us ask questions. Serial killers have done horrible
and terrifying things, and are thus evil. But what makes them evil? Can the
interrelation of sociology and psychology be studied in depth and used in real
life to maybe prevent people who are predisposed to violence from indulging in
These questions are constantly being answered and re-answered by scholars, but
it is important that everyone recognises the importance of social and
psychological factors in making of a criminal. Modifying parenting styles,
ensuring increased access to mental healthcare, and simply being kind to those
around us- are some simple ways that may change a personís life, and help them
build a good life for themselves.