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The Macdonald Triad Essay

The Macdonald triad, also known as the triad of sociopath is a set of three behavioral characteristics which are associated with sociopathic behavior. How are all these tied into each other? What are some of the characteristics that are associated with the Macdonald Triad? The Macdonald triad is a set of three behavioral characteristics which are associated with sociopathic behavior. These behavioral characteristics are found in the childhood histories of individuals with sociopathic behaviors. We will examine each one of these that is associated with the Macdonald Triad. J. M. Macdonald suggested that cruelty towards animals, fire-setting and excessive bed-wetting during in childhood linked violent behavior in adulthood. This theory has strengths and weaknesses. It provides an explanation, not necessarily a valid one, for a tragic situation. Sometimes that is all anybody is ever looking for in those situations, an explanation.

The Macdonald triad is a set of three behavioral characteristics which are associated with sociopathic behavior. It was first identified by a forensic psychiatrist, John Marshall Macdonald, in his 1963 paper in the American Journal of Psychiatry titled “The Threat to Kill”. These behavioral characteristics are found in the childhood histories of individuals with sociopathic behaviors. The following are the three classic signs of the Macdonald Triad: Animal Cruelty, Enuresis, more commonly referred to as bed wetting and fire setting or arson. Although some children display sociopathic behavior such as being more aggressive, being more manipulative, expressing little or no remorse, and feeling no guilt cannot be an indicator for the Macdonald Triad. It has long been held that the presence of the triad in children and adolescents is predictive of later interpersonal violence. Although in more recent studies statistically significant links between the MacDonald Triad and violent criminals have not been found, numerous serial killers and sociopaths have exhibited these behavioral character traits in their childhoods.

It has also been suggested that these behavioral characteristics are the result of parental neglect, cruelty, or trauma in a person’s childhood could lead to this “homicidal proneness”. Individually, fire setting is seen as the less severe or first step to releasing aggression. In numerous serial killers, extensive periods of humiliation have been present in their childhoods. And fire setting was a way for those serial killers to regain something they lost during those initial periods of humiliation. Next, looking at the characteristic of extreme animal cruelty; it’s one of the most highly researched topics when trying to delve deep into the psyche of a serial killer, and like fire setting, animal cruelty. It is also believed that the killing of animals is a precursor to killing human beings, not only the act of killing but also the means of carrying out the murder on a human. The act of killing an animal is in essence regaining what they lost through humiliation by their peers, they are dominating something weaker than themselves.

It’s been theorized at that as children, future serial killers used animals to vent frustrations because the person causing their humiliation was too powerful for them to handle. These future serial killers felt that they regained some power or control over their lives by torturing and killing animals. They’ve gained the power and control they needed to cause pain to their future victims. Personally, I do not agree with the Macdonald Triad. Although I would not doubt that all three separately are indicators of troubled behavior that even the combination of the three would be a “red flag”, but not sufficient enough to say that it is a direct link or cause of violent behavior. To me there isn’t enough data to back the theories validity.

The studies described in the text consist of research counts of 84, 102, 1200; that is not enough research or statistical data collection to convince me that these behaviors are direct links to the behaviors shown in serial killers. The simple downfall of this theory is the lack of research and study groups. I believe that the strength of this theory is its potential. With more money, research, studies, and attention I believe this theory’s reputation could improve. The Macdonald Triad does a good job of describing the emotional behind the act of the act. The connection between nature/nurture and a child’s emotional development process is extremely important and often times are direct indicators of how they will act or react as an adult.


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