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Dexter Morgan
By Rebecca Banning

“People think it's fun to pretend you're a monster. Me, I spend my life pretending I'm not.”
Dexter Morgan


Dexter Morgan is a character played by Michael C. Hall who works at the Miami Metro Police Department as a forensic blood splatter analyst. During the day, Dexter helps homicide detectives at crime scenes to piece together crimes by examining the trajectory of blood. After work, he returns home to his wife and kids, but by night Dexter doubles as a serial killer who kills serial killers.

Dexter’s serial killer ways stem back to when he was a young child and witnessed the gruesome murder of his mother and others by chainsaw. He was “born in blood” as he sat in three inches of blood for days until Harry Morgan, a cop, found him. Harry adopted Dexter and raised him as his own.
Harry noticed Dexter was different and had a “dark passenger” as he approached adolescence. Dexter lacked social skills and never displayed emotions. He wasn’t interested in sports and girls like other boys his age. Harry found the truth when a neighbor’s dog went missing and then found a grave for it. From that point on, Harry instilled a set of rules, “Harry’s Code”, for Dexter to live by in order to have a normal life, act in an acceptable manner around others, and control his dark urges. Harry used his knowledge as a police officer to teach Dexter how to clean up his crime scenes and leave nothing that could be traced back to him. Harry knew what the police looked for and made sure to teach Dexter everything he could; he also taught him how to act around others to avoid suspicions and interact with others normally in order to abide by the number one rule, never get caught. The most important part of Harry’s Code was how to choose the next victim; every victim was a killer who evaded jail time by slipping through the flawed cracks of the justice system.

“Harry was a great cop here in Miami. He taught me how to think like one; he taught me how to cover my tracks. I'm a very neat monster.” – Dexter Morgan

Throughout his life Dexter had very few relationships as he was unable to understand why people do what they do, act how they act, and feel what they feel. Dexter has been able to act his way through life and keep his real self from everyone except Harry. Harry passed away and Dexter let a select few get close to him such as his sister and coworker Deb, his wife Rita and her kids, and his baby son Harrison. Rita was murdered and her kids went to live with their grandparents leaving Dexter as a single father caring for Harrison alone. Harrison is the only person Dexter has ever revealed his true self to since Harry.

Trait and Skill Aspects Approach:

The way in which Dexter lives his life and plans his kills can be describe and explained through the Big Five personality traits. The Big Five include: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. If you were to rate Dexter based on these traits by only using information from the point of view of his coworkers and others he interacts with, you would rate him like a typical person; high in agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness and low in extroversion and neuroticism. However, if you were to rate him based on a scene showing one of his kills you would rate him as the opposite; high in neuroticism and extroversion (Cherry).

In his everyday life, Dexter is low on extroversion as he is quite, keeps to himself, and has very few social relationships and interactions. Dexter only talks to his coworkers while at work and only Rita, the kids, and Deb outside of work. Even during his interactions with others Dexter doesn’t say much but knows he must fake expressions of emotions that he doesn’t feel in order to portray normalcy. However, Dexter shows high excitability and assertiveness when it comes to two things: his victims and blood. In one scene, Dexter rents a moving van and notices a spot of dried blood on the flooring. It is all he can think about for the next few days until he picks up the truck and is able to use his work kit and a black light to collect a sample to get tested in his lab for DNA.

Dexter portrays being agreeable and altruistic to his sister and coworkers, but is only kind and friendly because Harry taught him to in order to be able to coexist with others and maintain his job and relationships with Deb and Rita. In many episodes, a coworker will ask Dexter to stay late to help them work on a case and it seems as if he is happy to agree to, but he is really annoyed that he has to postpone his kill for the night.

In both his day job and night job Dexter is high in conscientiousness as he is very competent and good at what he does. Dexter is very good at controlling his impulses in order to protect himself and those he cares about. As a killer, he is very good with blood, being able to determine who it came from, who hit who, what positions the people were in, etc. This makes his job simple and the perfect job for him, besides the fact he is surrounded by the police. He plans his kills very carefully: he takes the time to choose his next victim, research them, follow them, learn about them, pick an ideal location for the “kill room”, purchase life vests and other things he doesn’t need along with his murder tools to ward off suspicions, cover the entire room with plastic sheeting, print out pictures of his victim’s victims, and times it perfectly for when and where he will pick the victim up. Because of this careful planning he doesn’t engage in impulsivity which could get him found out or killed.

“Preparation is vital. No detail can be overlooked and the ritual is intoxicating: duct tape, rubber sheets, necessary tools for play.” –Dexter Morgan

Although he feels no emotions, Dexter’s “dark passenger” shows traits of neuroticism in times of stress. When something goes wrong with a kill, he becomes very anxious, irritable, and at times hostile. Other times he shows vulnerability, especially when he was experiencing flashbacks of his mother’s death.

Dexter is very imaginative and curious in both his jobs. As a blood splatter analyst, he has to think outside the box such as when trying to determine the murder weapon and is very curious when something is out of place. As a killer, he has a lot of insight into the mind of a killer which comes in handy at his job, as well as giving helpful hints to Deb to help her solve a case. At his night job, Dexter gets creative with his killings and thinks on the spot when he is forced to improvise and make a kill when he doesn’t have a room set up or if a victim figures him out and is able to flee.

Henry Murray composed a list of needs which people strive to satisfy at an unconscious level (Heffner, 2004). Although Dexter feels no motivation to complete these needs, he is able to fulfill them almost perfectly thanks to everything Harry taught him. Dexter fulfills the need for achievement by keeping and being competent at his day job, having a family, and helping out others. Even though Dexter has no desire to complete tasks created by society, he knows it is the best way to keep a low profile and have a decent life. Harry once told Dexter he would never be able to have relationships with others at the risk of getting to close and exposing himself, and his inability to feel intimate and show affection. Dexter overcame the need for affiliation through his relationships with Rita, her kids, and Deb. Dexter doesn’t feel the need for power in his daily life, but it is imperative for him to have the upper hand and control during a kill.

Cognitive Approach:

In order to portray a normal life, Dexter thinks through everything he says and does. In every episode, the viewer can hear what Dexter is thinking through voiceovers. In some scenes during which Dexter is having a conversation with another person, the conversation will flip between what the other character says, what Dexter is thinking, and what he actually says out loud. It is interesting to watch his thought process as he tries to figure out the best thing to say, especially when he is stuck in a lie or when being questioned in a suspicious manner.

In most situations, Dexter is field independent as he would much rather be alone, away from others, and doing his own thing. There are many scenes in which he sees a coworker approaching him and rushes to avoid them. On the other hand, Dexter is forced to notice aspects of the context of which he is in, in order to determine what he should say/do/pretend to feel.

Schemas are cognitive structures used to determine how people act and think by organizing knowledge and expectations about the environment. Dexter relies on the fact that others use their schemas to determine what they will do next. Many times during conversations you can hear Dexter predict exactly what the other person will say next. When he comes face to face with others like him, he has a hard time figuring them out as they are doing the same to him. Dexter also relies on scripts to get through social interactions. He has been able to use a script for work to talk to his coworkers as well as one to talk to Deb. When she puts Dexter in a situation in which he is unfamiliar with what to say, she accuses him as being too emotionally distant and a bad listener. When Rita started wanting more affection from Dexter, he had never been in that position before and observed other couples to figure out what he should do. He even went so far as to ask advice from one of his victims who happened to be married (Mcleod, 2007).

“People fake a lot of human interactions, but I feel like I fake them all, and I fake them very well. That's my burden, I guess.” –Dexter Morgan

Dexter understands the idea of an internal locus of control as he understands outcomes are the result of one’s own actions. He displays this in his reasoning for picking his victims. He sees how the justice systems fails people every day as all of his victims should have been incarcerated but were wrongly set free. He has to take it upon himself to make sure they can never hurt another person again. However, when it comes to his hobby, he sees it as being out of his control; he claims it’s his dark passenger. In the following conversation between Dexter and his victim Mike Donovan, you can see how he has no control over his desire to kill, but he does have control over who he chooses as his victims:

Mike Donovan: I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t. Please, you have to understand.
Dexter Morgan: Trust me, I definitely understand. See, I can’t help myself either. But children,
I could never do that. Not like you. Never, ever kids.
Mike Donovan: Why?
Dexter Morgan: I have standards.

As mentioned before, Dexter uses observational learning to learn new behaviors to use when confronted with a situation he has never experienced before. For example, Rita felt Dexter was too distant and asked him to let her in and tell her what was bothering him. Dexter couldn’t tell the truth without exposing who he really was so when he was observing his victim during his preparation for the kill, he payed close attention to their conversation with their wife; what things they said and how they said them. He noticed he needed to tell Rita what she wanted to hear so he took the problem he was having and made it sound like it was a work issue. From his observations, Dexter was able to pay attention to what was said, remember what and how to say it, produce what he had learned by changing it to fit his life, and then say it in a convincing manner to Rita with the motivation of reducing her suspicions and putting her at ease. Dexter views situations and interactions as times for learning and using the knowledge he has, but there are some situations he can’t fake and lie his way out of.

“All you can do is play along at life, and hope that sometimes you get it right.” –Dexter Morgan

Dexter is a very complex individual who does not easily fit into one or two personality approaches. He fits into certain parts of a theory, but then completely fails to even relate to another part. It is difficult to categorize him at one end of the spectrum for the Big Five traits as he flips between high and low and he flips between his real self and ideal self. He believes one thing, but does the complete opposite. Because of this, it is hard to assess Dexter as having one personality as his personality can be interpreted in many ways. Overall, his personality is made up of what he thinks and believes and then what he fakes. Since he doesn’t understand why people feel certain things he also doesn’t pick up on nonverbal cues making him oblivious to things such as flirting, sarcasm, and jokes, he is a very interesting and funny character to watch.


Cherry, K. The Big Five Personality Dimensions. About.com. Retrieved November 28, 2011, from http://psychology.about.com/od/personalitydevelopment/a/bigfive.htm

Heffner, C. (2004). Psychogenic Needs. AllPsyc Online. Retrieved November 28, 2011, from http://allpsych.com/personalitysynopsis/murray.html

Mcleod, S. (2007). Cognitive Psychology. Simply Psychology. Retrieved November 28, 2011,
from http://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive.html

http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0026519/quotes. Retrieved November 28, 2011