Exploring the Killer Instinct – Project Delves into the Mind of Serial Killers


With a passion for justice and helping others, senior criminal justice and psychology major Clairanne Porter is digging into the common characteristics of serial killers in her capstone honors project.

Porter acknowledges that this topic intrigues, fascinates and disgusts the majority of the population. However, she has discovered that there is little research done on serial killers, making it hard to understand them.

With dreams of becoming a criminal prosecutor following graduation, Porter sees this project as a way to gain a small understanding of this population of offenders.

“I feel like being a prosecutor for someone who can’t speak up for themselves would be a great way to help people,” said Porter. “So, if I could help by putting someone like this away so they can’t hurt anyone else again I would feel like I had a purpose.”

Her project culminated in an overview chart with a detailed research paper that explores the biological, psychological and sociological factors of serial killers.

She believes that understanding a serial killer is more than just pinpointing one experience or childhood situation.

“It’s a mix of things,” said Porter. “It’s like a puzzle, a very tough puzzle. There never really is one factor that plays into it.”

A portion of Porter’s research required that she explore past serial killers and dig deeper into the stories of the murders and victims.

Reading the gory details has been “very disturbing.” But, Porter has learned to put up walls and separate herself from the content.

“That’s something you have to do in the line of work that I am going to do,” Porter said. “You have to have walls that separate you from your case and from the person that you’re prosecuting.

“The empathy and the sympathy is still there, but there’s also a line that you have to draw.”

Throughout the research process, Porter has gained a new perspective of serial killers and criminals in general.

“I was always like, ‘Oh they’re evil. They did these terrible things. They can’t possibly be human.’ And, you don’t even think about it,” Porter said. “You don’t think that they have parents, too. They have siblings, some of them have kids. They have friends. They have a life.”

Taking this stance has encouraged Porter to view serial killers through God’s eyes.

“You have to remember that God still loves them too, even though they’ve done these terrible things,” she said. “Which is really, really hard to do especially if you are a victim of a perpetrator or related to a victim.”

Porter believes this is an important perspective that more people need to acknowledge.

Through her research, Porter has discovered that there may be specific biological attributes that influence someone to become a serial killer.

“I am a strong believer in choice,” said Porter. “But then there are things that make it harder to make those choices.”

Porter compared it to someone who comes from a family line of alcoholism.

Those who have a biological predisposition are more prone to becoming alcoholics after taking the first drink.

Porter believes some serial killers may have a predisposition.

“If you make the wrong choice once,” she said, “you’re more prone to keep doing it.”

Porter said the topic has been a fascinating study.

“It’s been a really interesting journey,” said Porter. “I’ll never know all the answers, but I feel like I understand it a little bit more. There’s a limit to what we can understand about the human brain and about human capabilities.”

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