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We all have potential to commit murder

The man who allegedly chopped off his grandmother's head at Nyalenda slum and carried it to the Kisumu central police station on April 5, 2021. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Majority of Kenyans hardly consider themselves capable of murder. But according to psychologists, anyone can be triggered to kill.

Jacque Gathu, a psychiatrist, says every human being has the potential to “snap and lose it”. That includes murder from the most unexpected of quarters.

Guyo Waqo was implicated in the murder of Italian Bishop Luigi Locati in Isiolo County in July 2005. Despite pleading his innocence, Fr Waqo was sentenced to hang.

Dr Gathu says that murder can be better be explained by nature versus nurture and temperament because “we all have the animalistic instinct to want to protect ourselves and what we hold dear. To what extent depends on temperament and upbringing.”

She adds that murder also has ‘biological triggers’, since “to some extent, we are all products of our genes and our environment, hence bringing again the issue of nature versus nurture. Other triggers could be over-glorification of murder, unresolved childhood trauma and drug and substance abuse.”

Abuse and murder cases. [Graphics: Standard]

In his 2015 book Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain, neurobiologist Douglas Fields singles out the nine triggers for snapping as life-or-death situation, insult, family, environment, mate, order in society, resources, tribe and stopped - being restrained or cornered.

Snapping, or flipping out, is deemed a negative response to situations, but Dr Fields explains that it is called snapping only when the outcome is inappropriate. To snap, the brain is activated to respond quickly to any threatening situation and “this mechanism isn’t in the cerebral cortex,” notes Fields. “It’s not conscious, because cortical thinking is too slow in a sudden, dangerous situation.”

Dr Gathu lists three major reasons for murder as need for power, lust (either sexual or relational) and greed.