Why People Kill


The reasons why people kill always seem to be questioned when tragedies such as the Fort Hood shooting occurs.  People look at the mental state of the shooter, which is naturally always in question, and the big question that appears to be echoed is “why?”

The truth is, while it may seem as though someone has “snapped”, there has been a psychological buildup of sorts to the point of the shooting.  For some, that buildup would have occurred over the span of days, while for others, mere hours would have lapsed, such as in cases where a person with a mental health condition such as bipolar disorder has decided to kill.

Brain injury is one of the possible risk factors leaving a person open to the decision to kill.  Those with a brain injury have long been linked to violent behaviors.  Dr. Roland Segal says there was a 2007 study from the American Journal of Psychiatry that indicated a link between violence and thinning in some areas of the frontal lobe.  Furthermore, there appears to be a link between damage in the temporal lobe and violence, as the temporal lobe does have structures that govern a person’s fear response.  In situations such as this, a person with damage to the temporal lobe may not be able to recognize his or her own fear response accurately.

Explanations of why people kill are also reflective of the cultures from which people come.  North American culture tends to look at internal motivators, such as questions about the person’s mental health, while European and Asian cultures have a tendency to look at issues external to the person who killed, such as environmental influences – abuse they may have witnessed, for instance.

Evolutionary psychologist David Buss says the motivation to kill is inherent to human nature and that murder was “beneficial in the intense game of reproductive competition.”  Buss surveyed 5,000 people worldwide and discovered that 91 percent of men and 84 percent of women had had homicidal fantasies at some point in their lives.

While the Fort Hood shooting yesterday continues to be investigated, it is clear that there are also physiological reasons behind why people kill.  Psychosis from schizophrenia or other disorders, brain tumors, prior history of drug abuse, seizures and prior history of alcohol abuse are all potential physiological reasons why people could kill.  Also, while people might believe that flashbacks from episodes from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), people with the condition are not likely to be violent at some point.  Segal says that many people who have mental health issues are actually not likely to be violent.

Life experiences can also play a role in determining whether or not a person turns to violence as a means of solving issues.  People who have experienced violence as children may also turn to killing should circumstances dictate they do so, according to their psychology.  If it comes to a matter of survival of the fittest, many who may have dealt with violence as children may view it as a necessary evil, and although many may understand in those contexts why people kill, it still does not make the devastation following the instances of murder any easier to bear.

By Christina St-Jean


Psychology Today

Business Insider


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