Cannabilism is a practice that goes back tens of thousands of years. One instance includes the cannibals of Gough’s cave in England. There is archaeological evidence that goes back 14,700 years, showing that Britain’s earliest settlers may have eaten each other in order to survive the ice age. In the modern era, cannibalism was used as a way to survive famine and war. However, there is no evidence to suggest cannibalism has ever been socially acceptable. There have been instances where individuals have practised cannibalism for no reason other than the pleasure they derive from consuming human meat – cases include that of Jeffery Dahmer, Albert Fish and Armin Meiwes.
This begs the question, what leads these individuals to lure, hunt and consume other humans?
Early Childhood Trauma
One common feature of cannibalism is that cannibals often have had a traumatic childhood which may involve sexual or physical abuse. Those that have had traumatic experiences at a young age have less developed emotional regions of their brains. This makes them more likely to seek out dangerous and violent experiences – which could include butchering a fellow human.
Cannibals are often socially isolated individuals. There is a correlation between this isolation and violent behaviours due to resentment of society. The lack of social contacts may also make it easier for individuals to get away with their crimes as there are fewer people around them to find anything suspicious.
Psychopathy (Antisocial Personality Disorder)
Cannibals often score highly in the dark triad traits which are narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Many cannibals show signs of psychopathy – this can be the result of early childhood trauma. Psychopaths are often fully aware of what they are doing but are unable to see why it is wrong. They cannot empathise with their victims. These individuals are also often very enthusiastic about their culinary processes, describing it in vivid language. In fact, cannibal Ivan L decided to make internet videos of him cooking his victims. He also stated he did not regret anything he did.
Although it is rare, some individuals experience sexual gratification from the act of killing and consuming other people. The infamous Armin Meiwes is said to have advertised online, his desire to consume another human for sexual reasons – and he received a volunteer!
Once the taste for human meat has been acquired, it can become addictive. Cannibalism often starts out as a fantasy, but once it has become a reality the brain activates a release of dopamine. This experience causes the individual to seek out the activity again in order to get the feeling of another dopamine release.
There are many factors that are correlated with the desire to eat our own. However, it is very important to note that correlation does not equal causation. Most individuals that have experienced childhood trauma, social exclusion, antisocial personality disorder or addiction will NOT go on to cause harm to others.