On Dexter

Deception: It’s What Dexter Does Best (Well, Second Best)

By Bella DePaulo

Dexter Morgan, man of so little ordinary human sensibility, is an extraordinary liar. What he is covering up with his lies is staggering: Dexter kills people up close and personal. He does it over and over again. Yet hardly anyone ever suspects Dexter’s dark heart and even darker deeds.

Dexter’s job is in a homicide department; everyone around him is trained and experienced in the pursuit of murderers. Dexter’s colleagues, including Dexter’s own sister, Debra, interact with him every day, but they don’t see a killer. Dexter’s wife and kids, too, never suspected that Dexter chops people into their component body parts, ties them up in trash bags, and dumps them in the ocean.

How is this possible? How does this person, so baffled by human emotions and so bereft of natural interpersonal talents, walk mostly unchallenged among friends, family, colleagues, and homicide professionals? And what does this tell us about Dexter’s real-life cousins in crime?

Lying in the Lives of Ordinary Humans

To get a sense of just how often real people lie, my colleagues and I asked 147 people (including college students and a diverse group of people from the community) to keep a record of all of the lies that they told, and all of their social interactions, every day for a week. Over the course of the week, the participants told about one or two lies a day, which amounted to about one lie in every four social interactions. Only seven people claimed never to have lied  …

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