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The Psychology of Dexter.


This is an extract from ‘The Psychology of Dexter.’

'Issues of self and identity have historically ranked among the most beguiling and bemusing of the topics studied by psychologists and philosophers. Self is such a tricky concept in part because it is so broadly used. Even a cursory peek at the psychological research literature reveals dozens of theories and concepts that employ the term: self-esteem, self-concept, self-discrepancy, self-regulation, self-awareness, etc. There are also everyday uses of the term: we often speak of “feeling self-conscious” or “acting selfishly.” In modern psychology, self is often defined as the mental apparatus that permits individuals to experience abstract, inwardly directed thoughts and feelings. Research in comparative psychology reveals that some non-human animals, including chimpanzees, gorillas, elephants, dolphins, parrots, and cephalopods (octopi and squid), have a demonstrable ability to recognize themselves. The fact that selfhood, like the lens-bearing eye, has independently emerged in numerous distinct evolutionary lineages suggests that it is a very useful feature. It is also notable that the species with self-recognition abilities tend to be, like humans, highly social. However, it has typically been argued that such non-human selfhood is fairly rudimentary: the complex reflective self is thought to be unique to human beings, and core to our historical success as a species. Selfhood appears to be a key contributing factor in our abilities to form preferences, to evaluate ourselves against internal and external standards, to plan for the future, and to relate to others.

As is the case for all of us, young Dexter Morgan’s personality is shaped by the juvenile life events and early instruction. As an adult, Dexter tries to plot a life course that navigates somewhere between his own desires and the demands of other people. He experiments with different identities, and strategically presents different facets of himself (real or feigned) to different people. He changes as a result of forming and maintaining close interpersonal relationships. His life is, of course, more complicated than most in that Dexter must routinely disguise core aspects of his personality and behavior in order to maintain his homicidal lifestyle. But these life challenges parallel those that we all face, including the difficult problem of distinguishing the “real me” from those aspects that we display to others and those aspects that are imposed upon us by other people.'

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