LSO802 - Criminal Psychology: Psychopaths & Serial Killers

Outline info
Last revision date 2017-05-29 00:38:01.032
Last review date 2017-07-17 00:16:07.974

Subject Title
Criminal Psychology: Psychopaths & Serial Killers

Subject Description
Are psychopaths born or made? This course provides students with an analysis of the development of both criminals in general and psychopaths and serial killers in particular. The biological, developmental, learning and situational factors that contribute to criminal antisocial behaviour will be explored in detail. Since there is sound research on psychopaths, a particular focus will be placed on psychopaths. The diagnosis of psychopathic personality, connections between psychopathic and normal personalities, neuroscience findings and research on emotion and thought processes in psychopaths will be examined. Case studies will be examined to bring the research to life.

Credit Status
One upper level Liberal Studies elective credit for Seneca degree students.

Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this subject the student will be able to:

  1. Identify the risk and protective factors in developmental pathways and the social risk factors implicated in the development of antisocial behaviour.
  2. Appraise the various theoretical perspectives on the causes of antisocial behaviour.
  3. Explain the biological or genetic elements that may predispose some people to commit violent or otherwise antisocial acts.
  4. Explain fundamental concepts in social psychology—e.g., positive and negative reinforcement, vicarious reinforcement, and punishment—that are relevant to the development, maintenance, and regulation of antisocial behaviour.
  5. Identify the major psychological perspectives on aggression and violence. 
  6. Compare the behavioural and neurobiological characteristics that differentiate the psychopath from the non-psychopath.
  7. Construct a plausible theory of psychopathic personality development that integrates elements of all known developmental factors.
  8. Identify mental health disorders that are correlated with criminal psychology.
  9. Differentiate among serial killers such as Jack the Ripper, Bundy, Dahmer, Gacy, Bernardo, Gein, Desalvo, Berkowitz, etc. and other mass killers.

Essential Employability Skills
Communicate clearly, concisely and correctly in the written, spoken and visual form that fulfils the purpose and meets the needs of the audience.

Respond to written, spoken, or visual messages in a manner that ensures effective communication.

Locate, select, organize, and document information using appropriate technology and information systems.

Analyze, evaluate, and apply relevant information from a variety of sources.

Show respect for diverse opinions, values, belief systems, and contributions of others.

Interact with others in groups or teams in ways that contribute to effective working relationships and the achievement of goals.

Manage the use of time and other resources to complete projects.

Take responsibility for one's own actions, decisions, and consequences.

Cheating and Plagiarism
Each student should be aware of the College's policy regarding Cheating and Plagiarism. Seneca's Academic Policy will be strictly enforced.

To support academic honesty at Seneca College, all work submitted by students may be reviewed for authenticity and originality, utilizing software tools and third party services. Please visit the Academic Honesty site on for further information regarding cheating and plagiarism policies and procedures.

All students and employees have the right to study and work in an environment that is free from discrimination and/or harassment. Language or activities that defeat this objective violate the College Policy on Discrimination/Harassment and shall not be tolerated. Information and assistance are available from the Student Conduct Office at

Accommodation for Students with Disabilities
The College will provide reasonable accommodation to students with disabilities in order to promote academic success. If you require accommodation, contact the Counselling and Disabilities Services Office at ext. 22900 to initiate the process for documenting, assessing and implementing your individual accommodation needs.

ENG 106 or one lower-level liberal studies (LSO) or Critical Thinking course.

Topic Outline

  • Psychological, Sociological and Criminology Perspectives
  • Introduction to Forensic Psychology
  • Biological and Psychological Explanations for Homicide 
  • Theories of Crime, Learning and Environment
  • Personality Disorders
  • Psychopaths in Everyday Life
  • Serial Murder/Serial Killers
  • Intimate Partner Violence
  • The Role of Mental Illness in the Court System

Mode of Instruction
Your professor will use a variety of appropriate teaching modes and techniques, such as the following: lecture, question and answer, tutorials, classroom discussion, group work, individual and/or group presentation, computer-aided instruction, and consultation.

Prescribed Texts
Lyon, D. R. and Welsh, A. The Psychology of Criminal and Violent Behaviour. Oxford University Press

Reference Material


Required Supplies

Promotion Policy

Grading Policy
A+ 90%  to  100%
A 80%  to  89%
B+ 75%  to  79%
B 70%  to  74%
C+ 65%  to  69%
C 60%  to  64%
D+ 55%  to  59%
D 50%  to  54%
F 0%    to  49% (Not a Pass)
EXC Excellent
SAT Satisfactory
UNSAT Unsatisfactory

For further information, see a copy of the Academic Policy, available online ( or at Seneca's Registrar's Offices.

Modes of Evaluation

To be successful in this course, you must complete all course work as specified and achieve an overall grade of 50% or higher. For further information on evaluation and academic standing, see a copy of the Academic Policy available at Seneca registration offices.

Term work:
All term work assignments must be completed prior to the time of the final exam or last class.  Students must contact faculty in advance of the assignment due date to discuss the possibility of an extension.  Late assignments may be subject to the awarding of a penalty resulting in a lower grade assigned. Make-up opportunities for assignments must also be made in advance of the scheduled due date.  If an assignment is missed due to class absence, official documentation must be submitted to the faculty member on or before the next scheduled class. Make-up opportunities may not apply to all graded assignments.

Term Work 75%
Final Exam 25%

Students are graded on form as well as content. Marks  may be lost for poor organization of ideas and errors in spelling, grammar, capitalization and punctuation. 
Students are not permitted to use instructional aids during tests or exams. 

Student Success:

Please come prepared to participate in class. Make sure you bring your course text to each class, participate in class discussions, hand in any assigned work on time and attend each and every class. Following these suggestions will increase your chances of success.

Approved by: Fiona Bain-greenwood