Why do serial killers fascinate us?

Although I haven’t been following the Showtime TV Series “Dexter” for a few seasons now, I was a big fan of it at the start. Psychopathy isn’t my area of expertise, but I have always been interested in the link between early childhood trauma and mental health problems, including borderline and antisocial personality disorder. Intellectual discussions in my own lab often end up being speculations about why people become psychopaths, even if the original conversation began with, “Who has been leaving dirty dishes in the office sink for other people to wash”? 
This is an interesting piece by Scientific American writer John Horgan about conversation between researcher Kevin Dutton and Michael Hall, the actor that plays Dexter. 
Why do we think psychopaths are so interesting? Or do we only think that the psychopaths portrayed by movies and TVs are interesting? Isn’t it more likely that there are many, many more real-life psychopaths that are not interesting, but simply ruin lives? Should we really be taking “wisdom” from people who are unable to empathise with others? Wouldn’t that just turn us into a world of stock brokers, politicians and serial killers? 

One thought on “Why do serial killers fascinate us?

  1. I think fascination and fear go hand in hand in this instance. We're drawn to characters like Hannibal Lecter, or Dexter because they're inherently unknowable. For most people, it's impossible to imagine what it'd be like to be divorced from the emotions of pity, remorse or shame. The psychopath by nature is hard to relate to, and therefore mysterious and exotic. The audience also intuitively understands that psychopaths have a kind of freedom: they defy society's norms and are free to do the things we aren't able to. It's no mistake that Dexter hunts other villains: it makes it easier to cheer him on as he leaves a path of murderous destruction.

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