TNB Night Owl – The Macdonald Triad

Computer Tomography (CT) scan of human brain, from base of the skull to top. Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain.

Ted Bundy. Jeffery Dahmer. John Wayne Gacy. All three of these men have three core similarities.

A psychiatrist and researcher named J.M. Macdonald published a controversial study in 1963 that went wide spread. He suggested a link between these three childhood behaviors and a tendency towards violence in adulthood. Now, not everyone who exhibits these signs grows up to be a serial killer, and this theory is still widely debated.

The study singles out three main predictors of serial violent behavior. Here’s what J.M. and his study has to say about each behavior.

1. Animal Cruelty

It is believed that this is from long periods of humiliation, especially abuse from someone older or authoritative adults to which the child could not retaliate against. Instead, finding something small and defenseless to take frustration out on. The child clinging onto a sense of control, in a situation where they have none.

2. Fire Setting

Also believed to help the child feel a sense of control in a situation, and a way to vent frustrations and helplessness brought on by humiliation. Though fire setting does not involve a living creature, it can visually satisfy the unresolved feelings of aggression. Thought to be one of the earliest signs of violent behavior in adulthood.

3. Bed Wetting

Bed wetting after the age of five for long periods of time was thought to be linked towards the same feelings of humiliation that could bring on the other triad behaviors. Bed wetting is part of a cycle that may exacerbate feelings of shame when the child feels they are in trouble for or embarrassed by wetting the bed.

This can also be a sign of sexual abuse.

It’s worth noting that J.M. Macdonald himself did not believe he found any definitive proof of this theory. However that does not discourage the many people who have sought to validate his theory.

A 2003 study supposed that a cruelty to animals in childhood could lay the ground work for a child to graduate to being cruel and violent to other people in adulthood. A 2004 study found an even stronger predictor of violence related to animal cruelty. They also found that having siblings could increase the chance that repeated animal cruelty could escalate to human violence.

As many studies there are to validate his theory, there are an equal amount that invalidate it, however no one can deny that there isn’t a shred of truth in the theory. You may want to play it safe and not go into a dark ally with someone who has the Macdonald Triad, just in case…

QOTN: Does anyone you know fit this description?

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