Articles  |    |  July 12, 2017

A vigilante serial killer as ethics educator? An exploration of Dexter as a tool for moral education in the professional domain

Article by Merel van Ommen, Serena Daalmans, Addy Weijers, Allison Eden, Rebecca N. H. de Leeuw and Moniek Buijzen. Published in The Journal of Moral Development.


This study aims to inform the discussion over the proposed merit of morally ambiguous dramas as a tool in moral education in the professional domain, by providing insight into student groups’ moral evaluations of Dexter. In-depth interviews (N = 61) were conducted among a diverse sample of law and (developmental) psychology students. The results demonstrate differences in moral evaluations, according to the degree of ‘professional’ experience. Remarkably, law students follow the unlawful reasoning of vigilante killer Dexter instead of their own moral make-up; yet slowly develop a professional, strict procedural, point-of-view during their education. Conversely (developmental) psychology students ground moral evaluations instantly in professionalism, but proceed from an idealistic to a more realistic and nuanced point-of-view. To fully reach its potential as a launch pad for discussing professional predicaments, we recommend that Dexter is incorporated later in the curriculum after both student groups have had more experience in the field.

Note: Dexter is a highly popular crime series. The main character is both a vigilante serial killer and a blood spatter expert for the Miami Police Department—and, therefore, cannot be seen as an unambiguous professional role model from an ethical point of view.