The MacDonald Triad

Posted: December 14, 2009 in Characteristics
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The MacDonald Triad (aka The Triad of Sociopathy) is a set of three behavioral character traits associated with sociopathic behavior. The MacDonald Triad was first introduced by J.M. MacDonald in 1963 paper titled “The Threat To Kill”, which appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The three characteristics link extreme animal cruelty, obsession with fire setting and persistent enuresis (aka bed wetting) past the age of five with homicidal behavior. 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 (a) used animals to vent frustrations because the person causing their humiliation was too powerful for them to handle. (b) These future serial killers felt that they regained some power or control over their lives by torturing and killing animals. (c)They’ve gained the power and control they needed to cause pain to their future victims. And lastly, enuresis (aka bed wetting) can be used as a predictor of either fire setting or animal cruelty. Persistent enuresis past the age of five can be humiliating, especially if belittled by a parental figure or adult about it. This can then cause the child to use fire setting or cruelty to animals as an outlet for their frustration. Also, rather obviously, it can be the outcome of persistent neglect from parents, causing emotional trauma and instability.

  1. […] married for young de Rais for a period of five years until finally succeeding in 1420. In this case The MacDonald Triad are not present, but we do see that Gilles de Rais possessed above average intelligence and […]

  2. Hi. Garry Rodgers from Vancouver, Canada, here. I’m a retired homicide detective and forensic coroner, now crime writer. I found this article on the MacDonald Triad and I think you summed it up perfectly. I’m currently writing a book based on a true story about a mass murderer who was a classic case of having these precursors. I wonder if you’d give me permission to quote from this article and hyperlink to it. Thanks & good job on this post.


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