Serial killers—people who repeatedly murder others—provoke revulsion but also a certain amount of fascination in the general public. But what can modern psychology and neuroscience tell us about what might be going on inside the head of such individuals?
“O, wonder!/How many goodly creatures are there here!/How beauteous mankind is!/O brave new world,/That has such people in’t!” Shakespeare’s lines in The Tempest famously inspired Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World, first published in 1932. Huxley’s vision of the future has become a byword for the idea that attempts at genetic (and social) engineering are bound to go wrong. With its crude partitioning of society, by stunting human development before birth, and with its use of a drug – soma – to induce a false sense of happiness and suppress dissent, this was the opposite of a ‘beauteous’ world.
Nipple of a cat. Nose of a pig. Hair of a poodle. Eyes of a baboon. Brain of a chimpanzee. If this sounds like a list of ingredients for a witches’ cauldron, think again, for it’s merely a reminder of how many general characteristics we share with other mammals. This similarity in basic body parts has a genetic basis. So humans and chimps share 99 percent DNA similarity in our protein–coding genes and even the tiny mouse is 85 percent similar to us in this respect.