PS390 Selected Topics in Psychology:

for S1A 2010

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PS 390 Selected Topics in Psychology: Psychology of Serial Killing and Mass Murder


S1A 2010 BE


Cardner, Patricia A.


Assistant Professor of Psychology


Sam Houston State University , PhD, Criminology
Argosy University, EdD Candidate, Counseling Psychology
LPC, Texas

Office Location

Austin, TX

Office Hours

3-5 pm T-TH

Daytime Phone


Other Phone



Class Days


Class Time

5:10 - 7:40 PM

Credit Hours



Hickey, E. W. (2010).  Serial murderers and their victims, 5th Ed. Wadsworth. ISBN:0-495-60081-4. 


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Course Description:

Prerequisite:  PS 101 or permission of the instructor      

This course is designed to be a survey course in which abnormal psychology and personality theories are applied to individuals who engage in serial killing and/or mass murder.  Treatment methodologies will also be discussed. 

Educational Philosophy:

My educational philosophy is based on a collaborative combination of lectures, readings, quizzes, videos and group work.  The student will be able to critically evaluate topics in psychology while engaging in positive discussion with peers. My philosophy of teaching emphasizes student learning whether that learning occurs in a face to face format or in the online environment. One of my areas of expertise is psychology, and one of the main things that I learned from the study of psychology is that people have different learning styles. I have also learned as a result of study and experience that adult learners differ in some important ways from traditional college students. I believe that students learn best when the material presented is timely and relevant and applicable. Adult students in particular like to see the relevance of what they are studying. One way that I like to do this is by including current events and cases for discussions. Discussions are the heart and soul of effective learning. This is the one way that students get to know one another and it gives them an opportunity to learn from one another.

  Instructor Learning Outcomes

  1. 1. Students will demonstrate an understanding of the major psychological constructs that are important to serial killing and mass murder
  2. 2. Students will develop an appreciation for the psychological disorders that serial killers/mass murderers often present with
  3. 3. Identify and label psychological themes as they appear in relation to serial killers/mass murderers
  4. 4. Explain the impact that serial killing/mass murder can have on a person and their family
  5. 5. Understand the course of treatment that applies to serial killers/mass murderers as well as assessment procedures
  6. 6. Demonstrate high quality written and/oral communication skills through interaction with other students and the instructor utilizing correct psychological terms and concepts.
Class Assessment:

·          Weekly Quiz.  There will be weekly quizzes administered throughout the semester – starting with week 2 and ending with week 7 (for a total of 6 quizzes). Each quiz will be made up of questions from the reading assignment for a given week.  Each quiz will be worth up to 10 points.

·          Attendance and Participation:  Attendance and participation is required for class and will be worth up to 100 points.

·          Final. A Final will be administered covering the readings from the entire semester (comprehensive).  The final will be worth up to 100 points.

·          Core Assessment.  6-8 page paper minimum worth 100 points.  See directions below on the core assessment. The core assessment is due in Week 7 on sunday by 11:59 pm, and is to be submitted to the dropbox. 

Each student will select 1 serial killer or mass murderer and will write a paper that analyzes the person in terms of the information presented in class.  Each person will be described in terms of their likely psychological disorder as well as their development as it pertains to the development of their propensity to kill.  Students will prescribe a course of treatment that could have been undertaken before the killing commenced (often times there are a series of warning signs before killing commences). Note any potential shortcomings with possible treatment plans.


Possible selections include, but are not limited to:

·          Columbine High School Massacre

·          Mark Barton

·          Virginia Tech

·          The Green River Killer

·          Josef Mengele

·          Jeffrey Dahmer

·          Ted Bundy

·          Westley Allan Dodd

·          Aileen Wuornos


These people have been selected because there is a great deal of video and written material regarding their crimes available as well as numerous other written documents and interviews.  You may seek permission to study a person who is not on the list, as there are many more that could be worthy subjects. 


Papers should be double-spaced, 12-point font, and in APA style. The paper will be a minimum of 6-8 pages.  The paper should include at least six references. The paper is worth 100 points. 




Exceeds Expectations (2)

Meets Expectations (1)               

Does Not Meet Expectations (0)


Analysis & Evaluation





Outcome #1, 2, 3

The student ascertained all of the key factors related to the psychology of serial killing and mass murder and did an exceptional job detailing the literature review; no errors related to the discussion of a psychological concept were present, and the recommendations contain more than an adequate amount of supporting evidence.

The student ascertained most of the key factors related to the psychology of serial killing and mass murder and did an adequate job detailing the literature review; one minor error related to the discussion of a psychological concept may be present, or the recommendations may lack a small amount of supporting detail.

The student ascertained few of the key factors related to the psychology of serial killers and mass murder and made numerous errors detailing the literature review; more than one error related to the discussion of a psychological concept may be present, or the recommendations contain very little supporting detail.







Outcome #3 & 4

The student described in great detail the issues presented by their chosen criminal and outlined courses of action that are realistic and likely to be effective, along with an insightful view of potential shortcomings of the recommendations. No errors were made in using psychological terminology.

The student described in some detail the issues presented by their chosen criminal and outlined courses of action that are realistic and likely to be effective, along with an insightful view of potential shortcomings of the recommendations; the student may have omitted a few important details. Psychological terminology was used correctly, other than no more than one minor mistake, throughout the paper.

The student provided information about the criminal, but it was not very realistic and/or not likely to be effective. Shortcomings of the recommendation were not discussed in any detail. There were several errors in the use of psychological terminology.


Whole Artifact





Outcome #6 7

Paper was very well organized, and all recommendations were clearly and adequately supported with appropriate information. The entire document contained 2 or fewer errors in both mechanics and APA style formatting.

Paper was organized but may have been unclear or lacking in necessary detail at times. The entire document contained 3-4 errors in both mechanics and APA style formatting.

Sections of the paper were not very well organized, and/or most statements lacked supporting detail. The reader was distracted by numerous errors, likely to number more than 4, in mechanics and/or APA style formatting.





Week Due


Total Pts


all 8







Final Exam




Core Assessment Paper






The grading follows the standard structure (e.g. if you earn 90% of the points or more you earn an A, 80% to 89.5% is a B, etc). 

Late Submission of Course Materials:

Any assignment turned in after the date it is due will lose 1 letter grade. No course materials will be accepted after the last class meeting.

Classroom Rules of Conduct:

·          Attend class promptly. Roll will be checked during each class period. It is your responsibility to make up anything missed in class and to make sure that your scheduled assignments are submitted on time.

·          Be prepared for class. This means that you have read the assigned readings and are prepared to discuss them. This course will consist of class discussion, small group discussion, group work, lecture, and videos. You are expected to take part in the discussions and group work. Also, assigned readings will not always be reviewed in class, but examinations will be from both assigned readings and class discussions.

·          Each assignment will be turned in via the online classroom. Each assignment will be graded electronically and returned to the student via the online classroom. 

·          The student is expected to maintain a respectful attitude towards others at all times.  Discourteous conduct is not acceptable.  This includes name calling, yelling, cursing, etc. Professional behavior is warranted at all times.

Course Topic/Dates/Assignments:

Week 1

Introduction to the Psychological Issues Associated with Serial Killing and Mass Murder

Week 2

Antisocial Personality Disorder and Serial Killing

Week 3

Other Personality and Impulse Control Disorders and Serial Killing

Week 4

Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Serial Killing

Week 5

Schizophrenia and Killing

Week 6

Sexual Predators, Paraphilia and Murder

Week 7

Mood Disorders and Serial Killing

Week 8

Female Serial Killers

Academic Honesty:
Academic integrity is the foundation of the academic community. Because each student has the primary responsibility for being academically honest, students are advised to read and understand all sections of this policy relating to standards of conduct and academic life.   Park University 2008-2009 Undergraduate Catalog Page 87

Plagiarism involves the use of quotations without quotation marks, the use of quotations without indication of the source, the use of another's idea without acknowledging the source, the submission of a paper, laboratory report, project, or class assignment (any portion of such) prepared by another person, or incorrect paraphrasing. Park University 2009-2010 Undergraduate Catalog Page 92

Attendance Policy:
Instructors are required to maintain attendance records and to report absences via the online attendance reporting system.

  1. The instructor may excuse absences for valid reasons, but missed work must be made up within the semester/term of enrollment.
  2. Work missed through unexcused absences must also be made up within the semester/term of enrollment, but unexcused absences may carry further penalties.
  3. In the event of two consecutive weeks of unexcused absences in a semester/term of enrollment, the student will be administratively withdrawn, resulting in a grade of "F".
  4. A "Contract for Incomplete" will not be issued to a student who has unexcused or excessive absences recorded for a course.
  5. Students receiving Military Tuition Assistance or Veterans Administration educational benefits must not exceed three unexcused absences in the semester/term of enrollment. Excessive absences will be reported to the appropriate agency and may result in a monetary penalty to the student.
  6. Report of a "F" grade (attendance or academic) resulting from excessive absence for those students who are receiving financial assistance from agencies not mentioned in item 5 above will be reported to the appropriate agency.

Park University 2009-2010 Undergraduate Catalog Page 95

Disability Guidelines:
Park University is committed to meeting the needs of all students that meet the criteria for special assistance. These guidelines are designed to supply directions to students concerning the information necessary to accomplish this goal. It is Park University's policy to comply fully with federal and state law, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, regarding students with disabilities. In the case of any inconsistency between these guidelines and federal and/or state law, the provisions of the law will apply. Additional information concerning Park University's policies and procedures related to disability can be found on the Park University web page: .


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Last Updated:12/14/2009 9:28:09 PM