Why Are We Attracted to Psychopaths?

Ted Bundy, an infamous serial killer from the 90s representing himself in court.


Ted Bundy, an infamous serial killer from the 90’s representing himself in court.

Chiara Douglas, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Do you find yourself obsessing over serial killers? Did you fascinate over Ted Bundy in the Netflix docuseries Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes? Does Joe Goldberg from You leave you wondering why you’re rooting for the “bad guy?” People across the globe have been asking these questions, fantasizing over make believe and convicted felons. But the real question is… Why are we attracted to psychopaths?

As the population continues to feud over right and wrong, many find themselves awing at the looks and gruesome actions of killers dating back to the 60’s. According to Psychology Today, attraction is usually initiated by evolutionary standards. For women, they are generally drawn to physical characteristics that indicate good health and the ability to protect. Although this seems like a logical explanation for the infatuation of murderers, no scientific evidence can back up a single explanation. Criminologist Dr. Melissa Hamilton stated, “attraction for deviance, confidence to change the accused, fame, a controllable relationship, the feeling of being special, the appeal for male aggression and protectiveness,” along with many other factors, all play a role in the attraction to these violent criminals. A junior at West Springfield High School expressed, “I think it is a fascination that people have- a fascination with what they do not understand, or with something they would have never suspected.” Criminologist Dr. Scott Bon agreed, “the fascination with serial killers is based in part on a need to understand why anyone would do such horrible things to other people who generally are complete strangers to them… People don’t want to look, but they can’t look away.” So, are we attracted to serial killers and their altered ways of thinking, or are we strictly interested in their physical personas?

Ted Bundy, an infamous serial killer who was convicted in the 70’s, serves as the imperfect poster child for “attractive killers.” Bundy was executed for assaulting and killing over thirty women, and while on death row in Florida, married a former coworker. In the popular documentary Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer, women of all ages were shown star struck by Ted Bundy. As Bundy’s trial began, hundreds of women would stand outside and fascinate over his looks and the way he carried himself. Almost like a movie, “fans” would sit in on his trial, in the hopes that he would look their way. Not only does social media encourage this fandom behavior, informational media outlets also promote convicted felons in a more positive light. On December 10th, 1978, Jon Nordheimer published “All-American Boy on Trial,” which introduced Ted Bundy as a youthful, handsome, and charismatic guy. “The moment he stepped into the courtroom in Utah three years ago to answer a charge of kidnapping, those who saw him for the first time agreed with those who had known him for all of his twenty-eight years: There must have been some terrible mistake. Here was a young man who represented the best in America… Here was a terrific looking man with light brown hair and blue eyes…”

The fascination with serial killers is based in part on a need to understand why anyone would do such horrible things to other people who generally are complete strangers to them… People don’t want to look, but they can’t look away.

The Menendez Brothers, two young men convicted in 1996 for the shotgun murdering of their wealthy parents in 1989, have also gained a large popularity amongst young teens, especially on the social media platform TikTok. Lyle and Erik Menendez opened fire on their parents in their Beverly Hills mansion- they allegedly committed this act due to physical and psychological abuse, among other circumstances. An immense amount of compilations on TikTok have been created, featuring video footage of the brothers’ trial, fantasizing over the way they walk, talk, and their physical characteristics. More videos have circulated on the platform showcasing confessionals on how obsessed some users of the app are, and research the participants are conducting, emphasizing with the accused and explaining their home life in hopes to justify their actions to the public and gain more popularity for the two. Another student at West Springfield High School reflected on the social media craze, confiding, “when people say things like ‘I’d let him kill me,’ they are going too far. He killed so many women and there are probably serial killers out in the world right now that we may even be around, so to say something like that is extremely insensitive.” On March 21, 1996, Kenneth B Noble reported on the first impressions of the duo, capitalizing on their appearances. According to “Menendez Brothers Guilty of Killing Their Parents,” “it led many to wonder what dark family history or twisted psychology might have led two privileged, handsome and self-assured youths to do away with their parents in the most savage way.”

On a more fictional note, Joe from the popular Netflix series You accurately depicts the assumed laws of attraction towards psychopaths, and has gained just as much of a following. The fictional character has even been compared to Ted Bundy on social media by fans, regarding their similarity in handsomeness and charisma! The Netflix show introduces Joe as a handsome, intelligent guy, which leaves the audience rooting for his character in hopes that he will change… this leads to his thoughts being verbalized through voiceovers throughout the show, which ultimately self justifies his behaviors. Netflixs’ show description stated: “A dangerously charming, intensely obsessive young man goes to extreme measures to insert himself into the lives of those he is transfixed by.” In response to a tweet cultivating the large romanticization of his character (“the amount of people romanticizing Penn Badgley’s character in You scared me”), Joe, aka Penn Badgley, tweeted: “Ditto. It will be all the motivation I need for season two.” According to Douglas T Kendrick, Ph.D, “research in evolutionary psychology has outlined what it is that women naturally find desirable in prospective male mates. Across cultures, women tend to prefer men with resources (like money)- and men able to protect them and their potential offspring.” A great example of this are vampires. Edward Cullen, a main character in the Twilight series, was extremely wealthy and supernaturally strong, defining the attraction that was built between viewers and their fictional characters in 2008. Although Joe in You isn’t rich nor strong, he shares another quality with the love lust Edward Cullen… they are both abnormally devoted to the object of their affection. This comparison ultimately proves the research that has gone into the subject of attraction towards these criminals, and overall backs up the hypotheses that are created within them.

Overall, we are not able to pinpoint the exact reason for the growing fascination among serial killers. Is it their looks? Their personality? Or are we in it to gain something? The real question is… Are you attracted to psychopaths?