Psychology of Criminal Behavior

7 July 2016

Aileen Wuornos was a prostitute who shot to death at least seven middle-aged men that she encountered along northern and central Florida highways. Between 1989 and 1990, she murdered men that solicited her for sexual favors or who responded to her offer of sex for money. Aileen Wuornos is listed as one of the nation’s few female serial killers executed by lethal injection. The primary question for researchers and psychologists concerning this case was, “Is Aillen Wournos a victim of a failed upbringing or is she truly a monster” (Seal, 2008)?

It is evident when analyzing this case that the motivation and drive to commit these heinous crimes was being fueled by environmental, cognitive, and psychological factors that stemmed from her childhood. This case became an interest to many that led to the release of three books, two movies, and a production by the San Francisco Opera. Aileen Wuornos’ victims were all middle-aged, white males who paid Aileen for sexual relations, however in each of the murders she claimed that they had all tried to rape/assault her and that she killed them in self-defense (Seal, 2008).

Psychology of Criminal Behavior Essay Example

Her preferred method was to shoot them and to hide their bodies in the woods. In order to consider if the nature versus nurture appeal is relevant in the case of Aileen Wuornos there needs to be a close examination of her past. In nature, one adopts the genetic traits derived trough biological parents, and nurture is what one learns through life experiences (DeLisi, 2013). There are obvious attributes that contributed to Aileen Wuornos’ behavior and criminal acts.

Her childhood experiences that she had to endure through increase the probability for the development of criminal tendencies, to include the abnormal sexual behavior that she took part in. Aileen Wuornos’ behaviors seem to have been a result from her dysfunctional childhood. There is also a possibility that traits from her father who was labeled as a sociopath and child molester who hung himself in jail could be applied in the nature vs. nurture theory in regards to her actions. Like Wuornos, her father was abandoned by his mother in infancy, and then adopted by his grandmother.

As an adult, he was imprisoned for ‘‘kidnapping, rape, and crimes against nature,’’ eventually committing suicide in jail. Although Wuornos, too, was abandoned by her mother, raised by grandparents, and attempted suicide several times, she was never charged with kidnapping, rape, or ‘‘crimes against nature. ’’ Before her arrest for murder, her criminal record included disorderly Aileen Wuornos, Feminism’s ‘‘First Serial Killer’’ conduct, driving under the influence, forgery, and armed robbery.

Because the specific nature of their crimes is seemingly less significant than the fact that they both were caught participating in illegal acts, this connection between Wuornos and her father, a blood relative, implicitly upholds a genetic explanation for her criminal behavior. The biological origin of crime is reinforced by the continuous need to point out that Wuornos never knew him (Pearson, 2007). Learning is the function that leads to possible or permanent behaviors.

Behavioral psychology associates the way one’s behavior responds from the stimuli in one’s environment. The environment attributes to affecting the behavior from how they are learned, and the motivation which either alters the perception or stays the same (DeLisi, 2013). The theories apply to the behavior of Aileen Wuornos and how she responded from her childhood throughout her adult life. Her environment was a primary foundation that influenced her responses and choices she made, and her maltreatment constructed a person who felt isolated and trapped.

Aileen Wuornos was brought up in an environment full of indecency, anger, cruelty, violence, abandonment, and disappointing behaviors. It also seems as though her killings were justified in her eyes as a means to survive by getting money, cars, and personal items to pawn. This may also stem from her childhood where she had to begin prostituting as a method to survive even in her teens. In this case the analysis of Aileen’s childhood and upbringing can seem to play a role in her behavior throughout her life.

A popular concept in criminology, for instance, is social support theory, which is the general idea that family relationships, friendship networks, and social institutional supports such as church groups, community activities, and employment opportunities are needed to not only prevent crime but also assist offenders in the desistance process (DeLisi, 2013). It seems that in Aileen Wuornos’s case that if she would have had better family relationships and some type of support system that there could have been a possibility that her criminal behavior may had been reduced.

Using a biological theory approach to view the Wuornos case, it appears that there lies some evidence to aid the concept that Wuornos was driven to murder with a biological predisposition. Within the late 1900s, one criminologist suggested certain physical qualities he thought could be employed to identify somebody that would use criminal activity, together with a large face having a prominent sloping temple, hair loss and high checkbones (Gibson, 2002).

It should be noted that these definitions of criminal atavistic stigmata are in most cases masculine in nature, which means that a logical conclusion would be that he believed any woman with prominent masculine facial characteristics is a sign of deviance and would be assumed to have biological urges towards committing criminal acts (Gibson, 2002). Aileen Wuornos did have what some would consider to be masculine physical facial features. In addition Wuornos’s gay associations shows an unconventional gender alignment, which identifies that Wuornos may have had a sexual identity disorder in addition to other personality disorders.

Personality disorders are typically referred to as a class of personality types which deviate from contemporary societal expectations and are characterized by relatively stable patterns of maladaptive traits and behaviors. In general, individuals diagnosed with personality disorders are classified based on the traits that tend to cause them to feel and behave in socially dysfunctional ways, and these traits are often an extreme deviation from the way an average person in a particular culture perceives, thinks, feels, and relates to others.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), these presumably enduring patterns of behaviors, generally stable and pervasive across contexts, are often congruent with inner experiences, and are therefore subjectively perceived by the individual as appropriate or normative (Esterberg, Goulding, & Walker, 2010). Antisocial behavior may also be a complicating symptom of borderline personality disorder, but may be more central in lower levels of narcissistic personality disorder; it is always a negative prognostic factor.

This is particularly true for the syndrome of malignant narcissism, the most severe form of the narcissistic personality that is characterized by ego-syntonic aggression, paranoia, and antisocial traits, and for the antisocial personality disorder proper. These are important differential diagnostic considerations when the clinical picture appears to be, at first sight, a borderline personality disorder, and they need to be considered in the differential diagnosis of all patients within this spectrum of pathology who do present chronic antisocial behaviors (Clarkin, Lenzenweger, Yeomans, Levy & Kernberg, 2007).

Aileen Wuornos was viewed as a social outcast, filthy prostitute, and violent bisexual. Her case focused on her character and a strong stigma was formed against her, perhaps because she did not comfortably fit into society’s accepted views of femininity. Erving Goffman, in his Stigma and Social Identity, offers an explanation of the affects of a stigma, which can be readily applied to Wuornos’ case: By definition, of course, we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human. On this assumption we exercise varieties of discrimination, through which we effectively, if not unthinkingly, reduce [her] life chances.

We construct a stigma-theory, an ideology to explain [her] inferiority and account for the dangers [she] represents (Weatherby, Blanche & Jones, 2008). The State’s expert psychologist, Dr. Bernard, testified that Aileen Wuornos suffered from both borderline personality disorder as well as antisocial personality disorder. Although he agreed with other experts that Wuornos experienced impaired capacity and mental disturbance at the time of the crimes, he concluded the impairment was not substantial and the disturbance was not extreme.

He also agreed there was evidence of nonstatutory mitigating evidence, such as Wuornos’ mental problems, alcoholism, disturbance, and genetic or environment deficits. In spite of those acknowledgments Aileen Wuornos was still deemed competent enough to stand trial, which I feel was unfair. Aileen Wuornos came to be viewed as an evil monster that needed to be executed so that she would never kill again. When this strong sense of labeling was leveled against her, Wuornos had little choice but to fit into this mold of a violent and possessed woman.

Despite her outbursts and firing of her lawyers the courts remained sure that she was able to stand trial, even though her behavior was consistently erratic and demonstrated instability. Personality is developed in early infancy stage and Aileen Wuornos’ developmental years were filled with the lack of trust, lack of security, and there was no bonding relationships for her to thrive from. Throughout her life there was a void due to the absence of proper parenting, guidance, and love. All of these issues constructed a woman who was unstable.

That in combination with the fact that there was a history of abuse and incest relations that Aileen had to endure traumatically affected her development and behavior. If there had been individuals that could have noticed warning signs when Aileen was younger such as teachers, counselors, or doctors there could have possibility been some type of intervention for her and could have potentially helped her become more mentally stable. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the concept in changing one’s way they perceive aspects, behaviors, and responses; no matter when the environment changes (Arrigo, & Griffin, 2004).

The method primarily centers on a person’s thought process, and is perceive that one is responsible for their behavior, emotions, and responses. In altering one’s thought process, they may possess criminal tendencies, however, can learn how to be more relaxed and at peace (Arrigo, & Griffin, 2004). There is a very high probability that Wuornos suffered from many of the aspects leading to her choices of violence, and if she were given more treatment measures, she may have learned to control her behavior and thought process, by coming to acceptance of the negligent, and abandonment, for which she displayed for her entire lifespan.

Aileen’s actions will possibly be never truly understood, however, it is perceived that psychopaths enter into the world with no conscience capacities (Arrigo, & Griffin, 2004). It is easy to want to perceive that Aileen Wuornos was a victim herself and became a product of her childhood upbringing. However, the state of Florida’s prosecution pronounced her to be a serial killer and sentenced her to death. Aileen Wuornos was never assessed or treated for mental illness due to her demeanor and self-proclamation of her willingness to kill again if released.

In 2001, Wuornos requested that the state of Florida hasten her execution. She recanted her self-defense plea, explaining, ‘‘I just flat robbed [and] killed them, and there was a lot of hatred behind everything. ’’ She maintained, ‘‘I am a serial killer. I would kill again. ’’ By rejecting self-defense and psychological injury, Wuornos, some might argue, confirms her own duplicity (Pearson, 2007). Aileen was executed in 2002 and with her she took the details of why she did what she did. The execution of Aileen Wuornos was questionable to some people.

These feelings were due to the thought that she was struggling with serious mental problems and really should have been given the chance for rehabilitation. Those circumstances could have been perceived as possible ethical issues surrounding the case. Both biological and developmental theories are visible in the Wuornos’s situation, making it difficult to determine which theory would be more applicable in determining her behavior. The biological approach, according to other theorists work, appears to recognize certain physical qualities present with some criminals, but doesn’t explain the manifest.

The developmental model is much more convincing, even though the reality might be that both models are operating in society with in every individual to certain degree. Wuornos’s actions will possibly be never truly understood, however, it is perceived that psychopaths enter into the world with no conscience capacities (Arrigo, B. , & Griffin, 2004). Many want to perceive that Wuornos was a victim for her actions and not a serial killer. However, the state’s prosecution overrode and it was perceived that she would definitely kill again if released.

It is evident when analyzing this case that the motivation and drive to commit these heinous crimes was being fueled by environmental, cognitive, and psychological factors that stemmed from her childhood. This case study has reiterated the benefits of identifying, assessing, and prescribing treatment if necessary to children who may seem to be “at risk” for criminal behavior. A question in the back of my mind regarding this case will always be was Aileen Wuornos’s criminal behavior’s preventable?

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