Nature vs. Nurture in the Television Series “Dexter”

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The nature vs. nurture debate has been an ongoing issue in different fields of study, including psychology, sociology, and genetics, among other related areas. At the center of this debate is whether human genes are pre-determined or wired in a specific way that cannot be altered or they can be changed along the way as individuals grow, shaped by one’s environment, thus underscoring the nature and nurture sides, respectively. Movie producers have also joined this debate to contribute through the dramatization of events and let viewers reflect on the issue. The television series, Dexter, is one of the many films that have been produced with an underlying theme of nature vs. nurture. This paper discusses the concept of nature vs. nurture, as presented in the movie series, Dexter.


Dexter is born and raised by his loving mother, Laura, together with his brother Brian. However, Laura is a drug addict, and she becomes an informant in a drug cartel providing information to bring down a drug kingpin. Unfortunately, Laura’s undercover mission is unearthed, and together with her two sons and three other drug users, she is captured by the drug cartel’s henchmen and put in a shipping container. The three individuals are murdered using a chainsaw leaving Laura and her children alive. She pleads with the drug lords not to kill her in front of her sons, but they refuse, and she is cut into pieces as the children watch. The killer flees and the boys are abandoned sitting in the warm blood of their mother, where they remain for two days before being rescued. These horrific events traumatize Dexter and his brother significantly – a burden they carry into their adult lives. Dexter is permanently scarred for life with extensive psychological damage, and he emotionally shuts down for 30 years. Eventually, he becomes a serial killer, not focusing on innocent people, but targeting other serial killers.

Nurture vs. Nature Analysis

One of the questions that arise from this television series is whether Dexter becomes a serial killer because he is genetically wired as such (nature) or because he has witnessed the traumatic killing of his mother (nurture). In other words, do people behave in a certain way as a result of their genetic predisposition or because the environment in which they grow shapes their experiences in a certain manner? This is the fundamental question forming the nature vs. nurture debate. On the one hand, the proponents supporting the nature side of the debate believe that by the time human beings are born, the fate of their behavior and other traits is encoded in their genes and it cannot be altered. Therefore, in the context of Dexter, he was born a serial killer. On the other hand, those on the side of nurture argue that the environment plays a major role in shaping people’s traits and characters. As such, the brutal murder of Laura in front of Dexter influenced his behavior as a serial killer.

Different fields of study have addressed the issue of nature vs. nurture, but scholars and researchers have not reached a consensus in understanding whether people are genetically wired to behave in a given way, or the outcome is a product of the environment surrounding someone. In criminology and psychology, the available literature and research show that human behavior is complex, with both genetics and environmental factors playing a role in determining traits and characteristics (Fox 23; Hernandez et al. 3). For instance, in their study, Pickles et al. showed that individuals with low levels of monoamine oxidase A gene (MAOA) are highly likely to be prone to aggression. However, not all people with this gene are aggressive, and thus the question arising here is what causes triggers some individuals to express this behavior.

The field of epigenetics could be used to explain this phenomenon. Leshem and Weisburd argue that children brought up in crime hotspots are exposed to violent and stressful environments that affect their brain development predisposing their criminal behavior (186). Therefore, in the case of Dexter, maybe he had genes associated with serial killers. However, the role played by the traumatic killing of her mother before his eyes in shaping his life as an adult cannot be overlooked. As such, perhaps Dexter was genetically predisposed to serial killing, but his childhood experiences triggered the expression of such genetic materials in his life.


In the television series, Dexter, the theme of nature vs. nurture arises when trying to understand what caused Dexter to become a serial killer targeting other serial killers in his adult life. The nature vs. nurture debate has not been resolved through research or scholarly works. On the one hand, supporters of nature argue that people’s behaviors are encoded in their genes, and they cannot be changed. On the other hand, proponents of nurture hold that persons’ traits and characteristics are subject to environmental factors and experiences in life. Studies in psychology, criminology, and epigenetics agree that both genetics and environment play a role in determining people’s behaviors. Therefore, perhaps Dexter was genetically predisposed to serial killing, and the trauma of witnessing his mother’s chilling murder triggered the expression of such genes, ultimately making him a serial killer.

Works Cited

Fox, Bryanna. “It’s Nature and Nurture: Integrating Biology and Genetics into the Social Learning Theory of Criminal Behavior.” Journal of Criminal Justice, vol. 49, no. 1, 2017, pp. 22-31.

Hernandez, Jose, et al. “Nature (MAOA) and Nurture in a Criminal.” UC Merced Undergraduate Research Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, 2015, pp. 1-11.

Leshem, Rotem, and David Weisburd. “Epigenetics and hot spots of crime: Rethinking the relationship between genetics and criminal behavior.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, vol. 35, no. 2, 2019, pp. 186-204.

Manos Jr., James, director. Dexter. Showtime Networks, 2006.

Pickles, Andrew, et al. “Evidence for Interplay Between Genes and Parenting on Infant Temperament in the First Year of Life: Monoamine Oxidase A Polymorphism Moderates Effects of Maternal Sensitivity on Infant Anger Proneness.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, vol. 54, no.12, 2013, pp. 1308-1317.

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