[Outlook]Psychopath prevention

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[Outlook]Psychopath prevention

Over the past three years a series of missing women cases in southwestern Gyeonggi Province made the people, particularly women, tremble in fear.

Now the mystery is being solved.

A suspect, Kang Ho-sun, showed police where he buried his victims, confirming that the seven missing women had been murdered by a serial killer.

The cruel crimes of mass murderers Yoo Yeong-cheol, Jeong Nam-gyu and Jeong Seong-hyeon are still as vivid in our memories as the cries of the victims’ families, and now another suspected serial killer has been caught.

Who are these people, and why do they commit such inhumane acts? What can we do to prevent further serial killing?

Yoo was diagnosed to be a psychopath, and it is highly likely that Kang will receive a similar diagnosis.

While a person suffering from psychosis experiences delusional thoughts and hallucinations and is unaware of his or her own behavior, a psychopath can clearly see the difference between right and wrong. He has a clear sense of reality, and is fully aware of the results of his acts.

In short, a psychopath is a normal person.

But he lacks the ability to empathize with the pain or sadness of others, feels no remorse and is extremely self-centered.

A psychopath has a dysfunctional personality that lacks a conscience.

A positron emission tomography scan of a psychopath shows distinctively poor functioning in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain involved in impulse control and logical thinking.

As psychopaths have a low arousal level, which means they are prone to boredom in daily life, they tend to seek extreme stimulation and dangerous activities.

Psychopaths expect others to acknowledge their worth and charm, without making any specific effort. As a result, they feel frustrated, rejected and are deeply discontented with reality.

In a bid to satisfy their frustrated desires and restore their trampled self-esteem, they drink, solicit prostitutes or indulge in violent or lewd comic books or games.

They live in a fantasy world, and from there build more and more fantasies. If their fantasies are not sufficient to make them happy, they commit murder. If they successfully commit their first murder and get away with it, they feel a sense of achievement and fulfillment.

They are intoxicated with the thought that they are superior to others and get addicted to murder, becoming a serial killer.

Psychopathy is a result of genetic tendencies combined with problems one develops throughout life, particularly in childhood.

It is believed that the disorder develops if one experiences trauma from mistreatment, neglect or domestic violence in infancy, when the personality is formed. A lack of attention and affection can cause the ability to control desires and emotion to malfunction.

In kindergarten or elementary school, a psychopath displays behavioral problems, such as hyperactivity and aggressiveness.

If he is punished for the way he behaves, he learns tactics with which to hide his true personality by lying or acting.

Friends and neighbors whom he meets after his middle or high school days are easily fooled into thinking that he is a diligent, quiet and extremely nice person.

At times his criminal tendencies may burst out in the form of violence or theft, but such behavior is regarded as the kind of momentary mistake or deviation that is common among ordinary people.

However, not everyone with a traumatic childhood and the appropriate genetic makeup becomes a psychopath.

If they make efforts to improve themselves through reading and thinking, if they receive positive stimuli of attention and affection or if they receive professional treatment, they become responsible and respectful citizens.

That means that psychopathic development can be prevented with the right measures.

Homes and schools must carry out their due functions. Professional diagnoses and treatment must be provided along with educational programs for juvenile delinquents.

We also need a system to evaluate criminals’ psychology and personalities, apart from the type or seriousness of their crimes, in order to discover psychopaths when they commit their first, lighter crimes.

Such measures will not be much of a consolation to those who have already fallen victim to such criminals, or the families of the victims.

But in order for their sacrifice not to go wasted, we need to prepare an organized system to prevent potential serial killers.

*The writer is a professor of criminal psychology at Korea National Police University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Pyo Chang-won
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