MacDonald’s triad: what it is and what it explains about sociopathy

Trying to figure out why there are people with psychopathy or who end up being serial killers is something forensic psychology has tried to figure out.

MacDonald’s triad he was one of the models who tried to shed light on this point, not without having been criticized or scientifically proven.

Either way, the model is interesting, and its three variables are certainly factors that seem logically related to aggressive adult life. Let’s see what they are.

    MacDonald’s triad: what is it?

    The MacDonald triad, also called the sociopath triad, is a model proposed by psychiatrist John Marshall MacDonald in which the idea that sociopaths have three common characteristics is supported. This pattern was exposed in his 1963 article “The Threat to Kill,” published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

    Depending on the model, most of the people who commit violent crime as adults can be found a childhood marked by aggressive behavior, Just like arson and cruelty to animals, in addition to urinating. Theoretically, people like serial killers exhibited at least two of these three behaviors as children, which would have a history of abuse and misuse.

      Factors Explaining Antisocial Behavior

      Three factors are proposed to explain how the mind of the psychopath / sociopath is formed. These three factors are as follows.

      1. Pyromania

      Pyromania is the tendency to be attracted to fire and produce fires. It has been hypothesized that this behavior, manifested in childhood, predicts a violent and antisocial adult life.

      According to the model, people humiliated in their childhood experience repressed anger, which sooner or later will have to be shown.

      How children abused by their parents or harassed by their classmates cannot defend themselves, they choose to destroy objects, And fire is one of the most aggressive ways to channel this frustration.

      They also feel interest and pleasure in watching the flames continue, knowing how serious it is to the integrity of others to spread the fire.

      2. Cruelty to animals

      According to MacDonald himself and people specializing in serial killers, such as FBI agent Alan Brantly, some serial killers and abusers start torturing and killing animals at an early age.

      This behavior can be interpreted as a kind of training in what they will end up doing as adults with their human victims.

      The cause of these behaviors, as with fires, is the humiliation and frustration of not being able to get revenge on those who hurt them.

      Since they can’t attack their parents or peers any harder than them, these future sociopaths use helpless animals that won’t resist and complain while the child marks, maims or kills them.

      Abusing animals makes them feel like they are in controlSomething they don’t have when someone abuses them. It is to reproduce what others have done to them, they go from victims to executioners.

      3. Bedwetting

      Bedwetting is the academic term for the involuntary release of urine when you are over five and asleep. To be diagnosed, the subject must urinate twice a week for three months.

      The MacDonald model and others assert that this variable is related, in one way or another, to the presentation / display of arsonist tendencies and cruelty to animals.

      Urinating at over the age of five can be extremely humiliating for the child, especially if their parents do not know how to handle them in a healthy way and it is not seen as punishment.

      Surprisingly, this factor is part of the triad, because in itself, it is not violent or intentional behavior.

      What must be understood is that the subject who suffers from it will have less self-confidence, which will generate strong psychological and emotional discomfort, as well as social rejection if it transcends the knowledge of others.

        Reviews of the model

        The triad proposed by MacDonald, rather than shedding light on the training of psychopaths, has contributed to a misconception among many of them. You don’t have to show this kind of behavior to become a serial killer, either. nor will he end up being a psychopath for exhibiting any of these behaviors as a child.. The predictability of these three variables is rather poor.

        Despite the status of MacDonald’s proposal, it should be noted that the study he conducted to arrive at these conclusions has certain limitations and his interpretation has been too exaggerated.

        The study, explained in his article The Threat to Kill, was carried out with 48 psychotic patients and 52 non-psychotic patients, all of whom exhibited aggressive and sadistic behaviors. They all had in common that they tried to kill someone, aged between 11 and 83, half men, half women.

        MacDonald relied on his clinical observation to do his research, and it must be said that he himself did not believe the study had any predictive value. His sample was small and not representative of society as a whole. The problem is how the results explained by MacDonald were interpreted.

        Other researchers felt that the proposed model made a lot of sense, which meant that samples of different types and sizes would be processed. These studies either had very small samples or did not come to the same conclusions as MacDonald himself and his followers.

        However, and despite the limitations of these studies, few criminologists assume that the model is valid. In fact, there are many sources in forensic psychology that cite the model knowing it to be true. Associating arsonism, animal cruelty and bedwetting with violent behavior in adulthood is a very common practice.

        Bibliographical references:

        • MacDonald, John M. (1963). “The threat to kill.” I am J Psychiatry. 120 (2): pages 125 to 130.
        • Ressler, Robert K .; Burgess, Ann W .; Douglas, John E. (1988). Models and motives for sexual homicide. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780669165593.
        • Singer, Stephen D .; Hensley, Christopher (2004). “Learn the theory of child and adolescent fires: can it lead to serial murder?”. International Journal of Criminal Therapy and Comparative Criminology. 48 (4): 461-476. doi: 10.1177 / 0306624X04265087
        • Barnard, ND and Hogan, AR (1999). The escalation of the chain of abuse patterns shows that animal cruelty is a predictor of violent behavior in adults. Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p. C.1.

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