First stated by psychiatrist J. M. Macdonald in 1963, the Macdonald Triad, also known as the Triad of Evil, is a set of three behaviors that, when seen together, are a good indicator of future worsening deviant behavior. In particular these are traits shared and displayed to some extent by most serial killers. They are animal cruelty, arson, and bedwetting. (I’ve alternately read reproductions of the Triad where poor penmanship replaces bedwetting, but I think those are the big three.) Despite its adoption and implementation by the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, it has become fashionable in recent times for professionals in the ranks of psychiatry to insist that the Triad is pure bullshit. Like this article, right here. Well, I call bullshit to their bullshit!
No, I’m not a psychiatrist, and no, the Triad is not a perfect predictor. But if you’re dealing with a kid who is starting fires, common sense would tell you that kid has some serious problems, problems that could lead to more serious violent behavior down the road if the underlying issues aren’t addressed. Maybe what the experts (who are NOT, it bears mentioning, criminologists) are objecting to is the treatment of the Triad of Evil as a surefire, guaranteed predictor. The assumption that if a kid has these three (or four or five) behaviors, said kid is guaranteed to become a serial killer. This is patently false. But that kid IS more likely to progress to more violent behavior in adulthood. Cruelty to animals in particular is a worrisome indicator of future violent sociopathic behavior. Hell, it IS violent sociopathic behavior. And the chances that the offender will progress to committing such acts against a human being are far from negligible. A guarantee? No. But it’s a red flag that should not be ignored.
Remember that Macaulay Culkin film THE GOOD SON? Remember that scene where little Elijah Wood is trying to warn the kiddie psychiatrist about little sociopathic Culkin, and the lady doctor says, “I don’t believe in evil.” That’s what comes to mind here. I would share with the pooh-poohers of the Triad theory the same admonishment that Elijah shared with that clueless doctor, in response to her statement that she didn’t believe. “You should.”