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The 3 main types of homicidal motivation in murderers

The 3 main types of homicidal motivation in murderers

June 11, 2024

Possibly, the act of snatching life from another human being is one of the most mediatic and repudiated in our society, and one of the most difficult to understand. In this article we will try to answer what internal psychological processes guide the commission of a murder, what motivations "move" serial killers and why such homicidal behaviors are maintained ; although it must be borne in mind that in each case these motivations will vary to a greater or lesser degree.

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The concept of homicidal motivation

Homicidal motivation is a multidimensional construct , this means that there are several classic concepts to keep in mind linked to the motivation of serial killers, such as: modeling (learning or improving a behavior by imitation), trial and error techniques (perfecting their modus operandi) ), vicarious learning (see a behavior to learn from it), the self-reinforcement and conditioning of the behavior and the killer's own justifications that perpetuate the commission of these murders.


Thus, murderers can learn and model their behavior. In fact, one of the "problems" that exist in prisons is that many convicted prisoners come to learn to commit murders more accurately thanks to the explanations of other criminals.

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The 3 types of motivation in homicides

Although the basic motivational processes are similar to those of other non-murderers, murderers tend to have certain objectives, different attributions and, above all, erroneous or biased cognitions. Let's say that the cognitive processes associated with some acts are reevaluated by the same distorted cognitive processes .


The murderers in general, and especially the serial killers (concept introduced by Robert K. Ressler in the 70s), usually do what meets their needs, and use violence as a means to achieve their ends. This affirmation fits within the basic motivational processes of any person, but instead of using violence as a method of action, non-homicidal people use other strategies.

The focus to know the criminal motivation in homicides is in the type of violence used. The mode and means employed will provide us with crucial clues about their motivation . This is why the analysis of the crime scene is so extremely important, because it reflects the mood of the aggressor and his feelings, which can give us clues to know why he has committed that crime.

Next we will describe the three basic types of homicidal motivation . Obviously, they are not mutually exclusive, but in aggressors one or the other may be more intense.


1. Revenge and justification

The main motivation of these murderers is to take revenge in a more or less specific way of those who believe that they have contributed to their misfortunes.

These killers they justify their actions as lawful and just; for them , murder is a natural consequence of the abuse or the unjustified rejection they have suffered. They feel that they must punish a profile of people for something they have done or for what they represent (eg, an aggressor who has been rejected on several occasions by women, years later will take revenge for these facts by murdering several women who have nothing to do with the matter, but who resemble those who initially rejected him).

2. Control and power

If there is something that is totally reinforcing for a murderer, it is the feeling of power, even if it is fleeting. They have absolute control and power over the victim, over their life or death . The feeling of being "omnipotent" is common, that is, being like a kind of God. It is an experience that can become totally addictive for the aggressor, becoming a very powerful source of personal satisfaction. It can make up for the emptiness they feel in other spheres of their lives, such as boredom, going unnoticed, being "one more" ...

This sense of control-power reinforces and maintains aggressive behaviors , so it is very likely that if the killer moves by this type of motivation return to action.

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3. Ecstasy-Relief

Before a general state of discomfort or excitement not relieved , you try to find a behavior or activity that frees you from that tension. They present a state of anxiety, nervousness and uneasiness that often manifests itself in alcoholism or antisocial behavior, and sometimes ends in a homicidal act.

The cathartic moment of expression of feelings and anger it is murder itself, and an intense feeling of euphoria and ecstasy is habitual. After the homicidal act comes a sensation of intense and pleasant calm, of relief. However, this feeling of relief does not last forever, and the most common is the emergence after a while of new feelings of restlessness, anxiety, tension, accumulated anger ... They have learned that to "relieve" these sensations an infallible way is the commission of a murder.

Final reflection on motivation in murders

We must make some nuances about the criminal motivation in homicides: the motivation of a murderer is implicit, individual and not justified. We will find as many motivations as there are murderers: it is difficult to identify all the motivations of the murderers within the three types mentioned above, although this classification may be of initial help in order to understand their motivations.

In this sense, the motives for committing a murder have always been very heterogeneous: there are ideological, religious motivations (proof of this is the terrorism of ISIS), passionate motivations, selfish, economic, revenge, and so on. Obviously, the best way to know the motivations of serial homicides is to speak directly with them, Conduct a meticulous interview by a trained professional and draw conclusions. Some very famous interviews in this area are that of Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy.


The most important thing, more than being able to frame the homicide in one type of motivation or another within the classification, is to be able to predict what is important for him and why he does it, to be able to understand what his personal criminal motivation is, what his history is. In this way we can predict with greater certainty their behavior, analyze their behavior in greater detail and be able to stop it.


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