The Bad Seed, psychopaths, and nature vs. nurture

Eight-year-old psychopath, The Bad Seed

In The Bad Seed, an eight-year-old girl with great parents is a successful serial killer

My new year’s resolution did not include weekend blogging, but there’s something to be said for writing while it’s fresh so here goes.

Last night I watched The Bad Seed, the screenplay of which was written by Maxwell Anderson, who wrote Anne of the Thousand Days.

I am extremely interested in the nature vs. nurture debate, and have been for a long time. I remember when my high school biology teacher told us about twin studies involving identical twins separated at birth, I found it strange that there would be enough identical twins separated at birth to conduct this type of study, but back then I only questioned that type of stuff in my head. I couldn’t take to Twitter to express my skepticism and Mrs. Marks was not a huge fan of mine so I didn’t bring it up in class.

Years later when I was living in Germany, however, I heard a report on the BBC World Service about how most of those twin studies were, if not bogus, severely flawed. I kicked myself for having never having looked into it further but I digress.

The pendulum swings regularly in the nature/nurture debate. Back in the seventies, it was all about environment. It wasn’t unusual for women to choose to be gay so they wouldn’t have to deal with men. Nowadays, you’re supposed to be born gay and that’s that.

The proverbial pendulum is now way over in the nature zone. Everything’s brain chemistry, brain wiring and genes and DNA. The media credulously gobbles up nonsense about a neuroscientist diagnosing himself as psychopath based on MRI scans.

The Bad Seed by William March was kind of a precursor to this current phase. It even uses the words “brain chemistry” at one point. Its basic thesis is that murderous tendencies are inherited and can skip generations so that even an eight-year-old girl with wonderful parents can be a successful serial killer. It’s beyond ridiculous, but it’s fiction so let’s give it a pass.

What isn’t fiction, however, is Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us by Robert D. Hare, considered one of the world’s leading experts on psychopathy. In his non-fiction book, he uses the fictional little girl from The Bad Seed as an example of a child psychopath with good parents, presumably because he couldn’t find such a person in real life where psychopaths are invariably bred in dysfunctional homes.

 

 

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