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Criminals that commit violent crimes are likely to be skilled manipulators, and they develop these skills through learning how to approach different people. The same was said about Ted Bundy (born Theodore Robert Cowell, 1946-1989), one of the most notorious serial killers in the criminal history of the United States. Many of his friends or acquaintances who reflected on their interactions with Bundy mentioned that he was always friendly, charming, and seen as “one of the guys.” As disturbing as such recollections may seem today, as the world knows of his crimes, manipulation and the ability to be liked by everyone is one of the most prominent traits of psychopathic antisocial behavior.
Through exploring Bundy’s past, it becomes evident that he was not born a psychopath. The series of events that occurred to him in his childhood made it more likely for the boy to start exhibiting behaviors that would eventually contribute to violent crimes. The true identity of Ted’s father has never been known, and the boy was raised believing that his mother was his sister (Dimitropoulos, 2018).
After his mother married John Bundy, Ted lived in the shadow of his stepfather’s real children, not getting enough attention and support from adult authority. The lack of authority made the boy fantasize about being someone else; he mimicked the voices and accents of politicians he heard on the radio and had dreams of becoming a powerful politician himself. Slowly, the boy started developing the qualities of a master manipulator. In high school, he had some outstanding aspirations of becoming a president and wanted to convince everyone that he was the one to be dealt with.
Some of the most recognizable characteristics of psychopathic antisocial behavior, which can be attributed to Bundy, exhibited included the desire for power, viewing others as puppets in his ‘game’, manipulation, the gratification for having listeners (an audience), strategic planning, sexual satisfaction in choices that he made, and the feeling that something was operating inside him (Puder, 2019).
In his taped interviews, Bundy seems to be reflecting on his actions from a third-person perspective. When speaking of himself, he says “he decides upon young and attractive women being his victim,” as if referring to someone else who had committed the crimes (Berlinger, 2019). In this quote, it is evident that Ted distances himself from his acts and plays the role of an analyst rather than the one who committed crimes. In addition, such a standpoint is evidence of the lack of remorse, which is another manifestation of psychopathy.
Lykken’s fearlessness hypothesis also applies to the exploration of Bundy’s psychopathy. According to the theory, the fearlessness that an individual possesses increases the likelihood of developing such behaviors as “interpersonal dominance, risk-taking, and persuasiveness, which, in turn, can be manifested in either socially praiseworthy (e.g., daring acts of heroism) or socially proscribed (e.g., criminality) behaviors” (Costello, Unterberge, Watts, & Lilienfeld, 2018, p. 2).
During his interviews, Bundy did not show any physical or psychological reaction to stress, pointing to the existing dysfunction in his emotional processing. In the interview with James Dobson, Bundy applies persuasiveness and interpersonal dominance through manipulating his interviewer. When asked whether he feels remorse for the murders of his victims, he is not concerned with answering the question but rather with preserving his self-image, praising himself for seeking the help of God and becoming a better person.
Throughout his rant about his greatness and humility, he has a smile on his face, closes his eyes from time to time, and shakes his head in denial despite allegedly telling the truth, all of which indicate deception and the attempt to manipulate his audience (Ramos, 2017). It is also evident that Bundy enjoys being listened to, which is another important trait of psychopathy.
When questioned about the numerous crimes that he committed, Bundy was forced to reflect on how his crimes began and the way his victims were chosen. It must be mentioned that he only killed young and attractive women, which points to his desire to gain control and power along with intimate gratification. While Bundy attributed his obsession with young women to pornography to encouraging “something inside him” to kill young women, it is more likely that the absence of sincere, loving feelings toward another person increased his aggression. Ted’s psychopathy characteristics of risk-taking and predatory aggression elevated after receiving the gratification from murders, leading to further crimes necessary to sustain his desires.
Thus, Ted Bundy is considered an epitome of a psychopath among scholars. His charm, handsomeness, and large ego allowed him to deter the attention of others from his negative qualities. The high self-esteem and the sense of self-importance prevented the criminal from showing any sense of remorse for the committed murders even on the very day when he was executed on the electric chair. The psychological profile of Ted Bundy is expected to be explored for decades further, which points to the complexity and multi-dimensionality of a devious personality.
Berlinger, J. (Director). (2019). Conversations with a killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. Web.
Costello, T., Unterberger, A., Watts, A., & Lilienfeld, S. (2018). Psychopathy and pride: Testing Lykken’s hypothesis regarding the implications of fearlessness for prosocial and antisocial behavior. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1-13.
Dimitropoulos, S. (2018). Ted Bundy’s childhood: Lonely boy to window peeper to serial killer. Web.
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Ramos, M. (2017). Ted Bundy’s last interview. Web.