According to the theory of dangerous condition in some cases, the crime occurs on the basis of the preceding certain mental condition that predisposes to conflict with social norms. Dangerous condition is usually temporary; it corresponds to an internal crisis, replaced by emotional indifference, followed by self-absorption, lability (instability), which again results in crisis (Williams & McShane, 2009). Great importance is attached to recognition of very complex stress reactions not always conscious, which often are the source of a dangerous condition.
It has been established that at the statistical level criminals differ from noncriminals by very important psychological characteristics, which are responsible for their wrongful conduct. In other words, the concept of criminal personality can be filled with this psychological content. Inasmuch as these psychological traits are involved in the formation of individual morality, there is reason to believe that criminals differ from noncriminals by distinguished moral and legal characteristics.
Results of numerous studies can give a psychological portrait of serial murderers surveyed and identify their characteristic personality traits (Williams & McShane, 2009).
First of all criminals are characterized by poor social adjustment, general dissatisfaction with their position in society. They have expressed impulsiveness which manifests itself in reduced control of behavior, rash actions, emotional immaturity and infantilism.
Another peculiarity is alienation of the individual in early childhood due to the failure of the family to perform its primary function (introduction of the child in the structure of society through the learning of moral and legal norms by imitating parents) can lay the foundation for antisocial personality, isolated from the socio-positive microenvironment – family, education and labor collectives, other small groups (Martens & Palermo, 2005). In the absence of compensatory education it can lead to maladaptive delinquency, largely provoking recurrence of crime (Martens & Palermo, 2005; Williams & McShane, 2009).
Thus, Jeffrey Dahmer grew up as an extremely shy and introverted child. His father Lionel, a scientist-chemist, who faced similar problems as a child, thought that his son would eventually overcome alienation, as it happened to him. But the older Jeffrey became, the greater grew his aloofness from the people. At the age of 15 he stopped to communicate with his only close friend. He tended to sit alone at home, staring at the TV with an absent look on his face (Davis, 1991).
Later in court Dahmer’s father said that at about this time Jeffrey started to roam the neighborhood in search of dead stray cats and dogs, which he picked up and buried in his cemetery. At the same time, it was obvious that Jeffrey had no tendency to abuse of animals, he loved his pets, and kept aquarium fish as an adult.
We can say that it was not pain and suffering that attracted him, rather, the dead bodies possessed a kind of a strange charm for him. At school, Jeffrey played tennis and wrote for the school newspaper, but classmates thought he was reclusive loner and an alcoholic, as Jeffrey sometimes would bring drinks to class (Davis, 1991).
The moral and legal norms do not have significant impact on their behavior. Such people typically either do not understand what the society is expecting and requiring from them, or do not want to fulfill these requirements. As regulatory control is violated or deformed in such persons, they evaluate the social situation not from the standpoint of moral and legal requirements, but basing on personal experiences, grievances and desires. On a whole, they are characterized by persistent violation of social adaptation (Williams & McShane, 2009).
As any serial murderer, Jeffrey Dahmer has violations in the field of communication: the inability to establish contact with others, inability to stand on a different point of view, look at himself from aside. This, in turn, reduces the possibility of adequate orientation, and produces the appearance of affectively rich ideas associated with the perception of hostility from people around and the society as a whole. All combined, these factors form such features as self-absorption, isolation, separation, on the one hand, and aggression and suspicion – on the other. As a result, the correct assessment of the situation becomes even more difficult, because the behavior starts to be governed by affective settings, and the actions of others are regarded as dangerous and threatening an individual, which leads to illegal ways to get out of this situation (Martens & Palermo, 2005; Williams & McShane, 2009).
Although, as it was noted above, the primary value in analyzing the causes of crime by a specific person is given by modern criminology to the theories social environment in which the formation of the personality was taking place. It is impossible to deny the effect of certain physical and mental abnormalities on the behavior of an individual, as they can facilitate the formation and action of anti-social personality orientations (Williams & McShane, 2009). Anomalies are referred to as clearly exposed accentuations of character, lasting depressive states, for example alcohol dependence Jeffrey had, leading to the consequences of the organic damages of the central nervous system, which finally reduce the resistance to the impact of situations (including conflict ones), create obstacles for the development of socially useful traits (especially for the adaptation to the environment), weaken the internal control mechanism and facilitate the implementation of random actions (including infringing ones).
For instance, Jeffrey’s father persuaded him to go to Ohio State University, but he was not studying there for long: for the entire semester, he was drinking heavily, and as a result, was expelled very soon. Then his father put him in front of a choice of either finding a job, or serving in the army. Jeffrey chose military service and served on the basis of Baumholder in Germany, where he worked as an orderly. According to relatives, Jeffrey was quite pleased with the service, however, it was not for long and soon he was expelled for drunkenness (Davis, 1991).
In general, it should be noted that in some cases, different criminological theories reveal only part of the reason of criminal conduct or explain them for only one point of view, without giving the full picture. Sometimes the theory is not enough to understand what exactly pushed a person to act in certain way. This thesis resembles a lot the statement of Dahmer who said: “I don’t know why it started. I don’t have any definite answers on that myself. If I knew the true, real reasons why all this started, before it ever did, I wouldn’t probably have done any of it” (Davis, 1991).
Davis, D.A. (1991). The Jeffrey Dahmer Story: An American Nightmare. St. Martin’s Paperbacks.
Martens, W. H. J., & Palermo, G. B. (2005). Loneliness and Associated Violent Antisocial Behavior: Analysis of the Case Reports of Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Nilsen. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 49 (3), pp. 298-307.
Williams, F.P., & McShane, M.D. (2009). Criminological Theory. Prentice Hall.