Sebranek, Victoria (2020) Psychological Processes of Murder: A Personal Construct Approach. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This mixed methods research study uses Personal Construct Theory to extend current understanding of the psychological process underlying murder. Many psychologists have theorized as to the reasons why people kill, usually offering a nomothetic perspective. Fewer psychologists, though, have developed theories based on idiographic studies of murderers. Additionally, much focus has been given to the Instrumental/Expressive dichotomy in understanding motive, yet this distinction has presented issues regarding clarity. The current study aims to add to the understanding of Instrumental and Expressive murder and the potential differences between these taking a rarely utilized approach—conducting and analyzing interviews provided directly by offenders to 1) explore the construing of a sample of convicted murderers and 2) examine any differences in construing between those committing Instrumental murders and those committing Expressive murders. The personal constructs of 25 murderers were elicited using Kelly’s Repertory Grid Technique. To inform the development and manifestation of their constructs, life narratives and crime narratives as well as existing documents such as court records, were also collected. Grids were analyzed using Idiogrid and RepIV computer software to gain insight into the relationships between the constructs and the structure of the construct system in the case of each participant. A content analysis was applied to the constructs, resulting in a number of themes including Power, Intimacy, Hedonism, Chaos, Achievement, Active Shaping, and Persona. The committers of Instrumental murder tended to see others, if not actually supporting them, as being “against” them. The committers of Expressive murder tended to view others with a broader array of constructs, usually in terms of Intimacy and Relationship and in terms autonomous to the participants themselves. A comparison of the construing of those committing Instrumental vs Expressive murders, then, led to the tentative identification of two different self-orientations—Self-promoters and Self-preservers-- that may be helpful in understanding these murderers. Self-promoters tend to see others as either in service to or against them, and Self tends to be regarded as the nucleus of their environment. Of significance to the Self-preservers, who perceive others in broader terms and place more value on others, is an attachment to their self-identity, which is often defined, idiosyncratically, by their role in relation to Others. Finally, the possible implications of the findings for theory and practice are discussed.

FINAL THESIS - Sebranek.pdf - Accepted Version
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