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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cannibal Icepick Killer Luka Magnotta was Not Born Evil

While I may be wrong, I have never bought into the notion that people are born evil. It seems like a far too simplistic explanation and can serve as a way to conveniently ignore the ways in which negative life experiences (e.g., abuse, neglect, and poor parenting) combined with a lack of positive coping resources and other factors, can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, building to anger, rage, revenge fantasies, and abusive tendencies. For sure, people are born with biological temperament, but this temperament interacts with life experiences to shape who we are as individuals.

This brings me to the disturbing case of Luka Rocco Magnotta, who was widely known for videos he posted on Youtube involving the torturing and killing of kittens, followed by bestiality. More recently, he has recently been arrested for videotaping himself murdering a college student, Jun Lin, with an icepick, dismembering him, cannibalizing the corpse, engaging in sexual acts with it, posting the video on the internet, and mailing the body parts throughout Canada. Was he really born to do this? Nothing could have stopped it? He could have had no other type of life? I’m not buying it.

While new information is emerging daily, we know that Magnotta was born as Eric Clinton Kirk Newman on 7/24/82 in Scarborough, Ontario, to Don Newman and Anna Yourkin. At some point in childhood, it is known that he went to live with his grandmother in Lindsay, Ontario. While I have never met him, and I am not trained in psychological profiling, as a psychologist, my informal perspective on the matter is that the following played key roles in leading to where we are today. This perspective is based on media reports and is contingent upon the accuracy of the information in those reports.

1. Traumatic childhood: While details from his early childhood are very hard to come by, it has been reported (by one of his own family members) that his family life was very dysfunctional. His parents did not remain together. Based on comments he has made on the internet, he described a “horrible” childhood and did not feel loved by his family. He has been said to report on the internet that he had been sexually abused multiple times. Whether that is true or not is unknown at this time, but I am inclined to believe it given what we know about his sexually abusive behavior. While everyone responds to abuse differently,  some people hold in significant anger and seek ways to reverse roles, regain a sense of lost power,  and become the abuser against a helpless victim. This was popularized on the popular TV show, The Shield, when police captain David Aceveda responded to male rape by being abusive to women and eventually having the offender killed. As described in a prior blog post, animal abuse is often the precipitant to human abuse, and Magnotta engaged in numerous such actions against kittens and possibly other animals as well.

2. Not feeling loved: There are many victims of child abuse who go on to live successful and productive lives, which is aided by having a positive support system in place. For Magnotta, however, that does not appear to be the case. His father was reportedly not a significant presence in his life (he claims not to have even known him), his mother does not appear to have been around him much (and when she was they reportedly did not get along), and he was reportedly raised by a domineering grandmother. So now we have alleged abuse combined with what appears to be a lack of emotional support and further experiences of being under aversive control. Not a good combination. His grandmother has been described “…as a domineering personality who would beat up people with submissive personalities and get them to do what she wants.”  He was been quoted as saying about himself on the internet that “All he wanted was love.”

3.  Low self-esteem and narcissism:  A past filled with trauma and emotional neglect can easily lead to low self-esteem. One maladaptive defense mechanism for this is the development of narcissistic personality disorder, the essential features of which is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts. An ex-girlfriend described him as emotionally cold. He clearly was obsessed with his self-image, which he admitted during an audition for a plastic surgery show. He posted a large volume of model shots of himself online (just do a Google Image search to see this) which often show him in provocative poses,  fancy cars, and prominently worn designer clothes, all of which are designed to convey self-importance. He had more than 70 Facebook accounts about himself whereas the average person has one. He is known to have created numerous fake usernames on internet message boards in which he wrote about himself, spread rumors to create an additional sense of self-importance, and then denied them to draw further attention to himself. Despite all of his attempts at success, he was a continued failure, including his botched attempts to become a porn star and reality TV show contestant. These failures may have fueled his rage against society. Ironically, as police predicted, his narcissism led to his arrest when he was found in an internet cafe reading stories about himself.

4. Immersion in fantasy life:  While most people are able to differentiate fantasy from reality, some people become obsessed with fictional characters or develop fantasy relationships with non-fictional individuals. For example, he was known to be obsessed with James Dean, the famous actor best known for portraying a troubled teen with a dysfunctional family defying society in Rebel Without a Cause. Dean and Magnotta bear somewhat of a physical resemblance, which helps make the fantasy immersion more real. He became obsessed with plastic surgery, partly to help him look more like Dean, and he was known to pose like Dean in various photos. He spread rumors that he dated Karla Homolka, a famous Candia murderer who videotaped rape and murders she was involved with. He was known to use the name, Kirk Tramell, as an alias, a likely take on Catherine Tramell in the movie, Basic Instinct, who kills a lover with an icepick. His name change to Luka Rocco Magnotta on 8/12/06 reflects a combination of low self-esteem (not liking his original identity) and appears to reflect his latching on to fantasy characters. It is widely believed that he chose the name Magnotta after the character Vince Magnotta from a video game called Ripper. The character is a serial killer who butchers his victims. It is unclear where his cannibalistic urges came from but cannibal themes are actually quite prevalent in fiction and non-fiction, that he likely glommed on to one or more of these characters/individuals as a morbid curiosity.

In conclusion, I do not believe that Luka Magnotta was born evil. He may have been born with a negative temperament, but his crimes were shaped by negative events in his life, a lack of pro-social coping resources, an increasing sense of alienation, emotional pathology, revenge and power fantasies, immersion in fantasy life, and an obsession to draw attention to himself. Lastly, this article should not be taken as excusing his criminal actions, but as a way to explain his behaviors from a psychological perspective. For the record, I find his behaviors reprehensible, abhorrent, and believe he should be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Related blog entries:
A Psychological profile of Wade Michael Page: The Sikh Shooter
A Psychological Profile of James Holmes: The Joker Killer
A Psychological Profile of Chardon School Shooter, T.J. Lane

1 comment:

  1. It is hardly simplistic exploring the neurobiological basis for psychopathology. The brain is extremely complex and the pathology that develops in the brain of someone like Magnotta is science. While nature and nurture are both contributing factors, you can not talk about one without the other.

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