Title page for ETD etd-10052005-101129

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author De Wet, Johan Andrew
Email martind@iafrica.com
URN etd-10052005-101129
Document Title A psychosocial perspective on the personality development of the serial murderer
Degree MA (Psychology)
Department Psychology
Advisor Name Title
Prof J B Schoeman Co-Supervisor
Prof A Theron Supervisor
  • sexual homicide
  • personality structure
  • personality development
  • serial murder
  • profiling
  • psychosocial perspective
  • behavioural analysis
  • case study method
  • qualitative
  • Adler
  • Erikson
  • Fromm
Date 2004-10-09
Availability unrestricted
The phenomenon of serial murder is a crime characterised by a paucity of scientific information and an excess of popularised fictional material, contributing to the existence of inaccurate perceptions of serial murder. Although serial murder has been committed since the fourteenth century it only gained notoriety with the intense media coverage of the Jack the Ripper case in 1888. One of the most important reasons for society’s morbid fascination with this phenomenon is because of the view of it as a “motiveless crime”.

Available literature shows that research undertaken to determine the origin and the motivation behind serial homicide generally focuses on singular aspects of serial murder. In most cases the research is directed by theories of the psychoanalytic school, most notably that of Sigmund Freud. Another research approach is to develop models and methods for classifying serial killers. Despite the value of these models and the research that has been done the information they can provide is limited. In most cases the research and the models focus on singular aspects associated with the development of serial murderers, for example, the internal conflicts experienced by the child. The goal of this study is to determine which internal and external factors influence the personality development of the serial murderer. The research therefore focuses on how these factors were internalised and expressed behaviourally by the individual. To achieve this the psychosocial perspective, which consisted of three psychological theories, was used to determine the role of both internal and external influences in the personality development of the individual.

The method of research deemed most suitable to undertake the study is the qualitative approach, and more specifically the explanatory case study method. The data for the research was obtained by using a semi-structured interview and relevant documentation concerning each of the two case studies. Seven research questions were formulated to find answers to the personality development of the serial murderer and his behaviour. The questions were also formulated to ensure the validity of the data and to substantiate the findings based on the psychosocial perspective.

The psychosocial perspective was used to analyse the two case studies and to compile a detailed explanation for the personality development and the personality structure of each of the serial murderers. The three psychological theories were combined in such a way that it could show the influence of internal and external factors on the personality development. This included the influence of the family atmosphere as well as behaviour and personality types that developed.

In conclusion the extent to which answers were obtained regarding the seven research questions and the extent to which the aim of the research has been achieved is highlighted. Finally recommendations are made concerning future research and possible areas on which researchers should focus.

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