The psychology of murder is the topic of a fantastic edition of ABC Radio’s All in the Mind that looks at the changing motivations behind the most serious of crimes.
You might think that the reasons for committing murder have been relatively constant across time, even if the perceived necessity has been been changed by modern society.
But it turns out that the social psychology of murder has changed radically in the last 500 years.
Honour and shame are no longer considered to be the most important psychological factors in determining social standing and murder is no longer considered an acceptable way of redressing the balance.
Pieter Spierenburg: Basically it means that honour moves away from being based on the body, being tied to the body, being based on preparedness to defend yourself and your dependants, and that you get other sources of honour that for example economic success or that even in a later period what they called sexual purity is a source of honour, being a good husband, a good head of the family, things that people take pride in and that becomes a source of honour— a man can be honourable without being violent…
James Gilligan: The more people have a capacity for feelings of guilt and feelings of remorse after hurting other people, the less likely they are to kill others. I think in the history of Europe what one can see is a gradual increase in moral development from the shame / honour code to the guilt / innocence code.
The programme not only tracks the history of murder and its motivations but looks at this is dealt with in modern day prison systems and violence prevention programmes. A fascinating look at a violent act.
Link to All in the Mind on ‘Murder in mind’.