Psychologists in Wales have created a simple psychological test to identify potential psychopaths who could become serial killers. Right now, all we have is profilers, and recently they’ve identified some serial killers as white, when they’ve turned out to be black.
If someone had given Derrick Todd Lee, the man accused of killing five women in Louisiana in the past 2 years, the simple, 10-minute serial killer test, maybe many lives could have been saved. The test is designed to reveal people’s deepest thoughts and feelings. Psychopaths are good at covering these up and are often highly skilled at lying. They lack empathy and can kill without remorse, but they can be charming and learn how to fake the feelings that normal people have, which is why many of them are so hard to catch.
Psychologists at Cardiff University think psychopaths’ emotional detachment can be used to catch them. They created a test that flashes a series of words on a screen, one after another. The person being tested has to classify each word as either “pleasant” or “unpleasant” and either “violent” or “peaceful.” They press one button for “pleasant” or “peaceful” actions and another for “unpleasant” or “violent” actions.
However, this becomes difficult when conflicting emotions arise. For instance, if “blood” or “peace” flashes on the screen, ordinary people take longer to decide which buttons to press, but not psychopaths?they choose an answer quickly, with almost no reflection.
The researchers tested 121 male convicts. 13 of them were psychopathic murderers; 17 were non-psychopathic murderers; 39 were psychopaths who had committed crimes other than murder; and the remaining 52 were non-psychopaths who had committed crimes other than murders. They found that psychopaths answered much more quickly than any of the other men involved in the study. This difference remained even when the testers adjusted for IQ levels. Without the psychological test, one of the main tools used to catch serial killers is profiling?describing the killer based on his actions and on past experiences with serial killers. “There’s a desire to have something magical, to have some worthy people go into a room and look at some information and come out with information like an oracle about what the person is like,” says police science professor Robert McCree.
When police arrested alleged serial killer Derrick Todd Lee, they were surprised to find he’s black, since the FBI profile released 9 months ago said he was probably white. This happened while police were searching for the Beltway sniper as well. He was described as an angry white male, but turned out to be two angry black males.
Both crimes were attributed to white men due to demographic trends, media pressures, and a misunderstanding of the work profilers do. The main reason Lee’s race was misidentified was that four out of five his victims were white. “The way that the race is generally determined is largely dependent on the race of the victim,” says criminal justice professor James Alan Fox. “There’s a statistical tendency; it doesn’t mean it’s a perfect match.”
Race similarity is also important when the crimes are all committed in the same area. Serial killers are cautious, so they kill where they?re most comfortable. Profiler Pat Brown says, “They don’t pick women according to race, they pick who’s convenient.” They often hang around an area for a long time, looking for the right victim. A black man would stand out if he did that in a white neighborhood, and vice-versa. However, universities are racially mixed, and the Baton Rouge serial killer was active around the Louisiana State University campus. Brown says, “It’s an old myth that most serial killers are white.”
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