On Wednesday night, October 24, the Rubin Museum of Art held a talk with Michael C. Hall and psychologist Kevin Dutton. In his most recent book, “The Wisdom of Psychopaths”, Dutton examines the spectrum of psychopathy and where the average person falls in comparison to your run-of-the-mill serial killer. Using Dexter as a model, Kevin Dutton and Michael C. Hall engaged in an enlightening discussion about psychopathy.
According to Dutton, there are five attributes that make up a psychopath. “They are focused, ruthless, fearless, empathetic, and most importantly decisive.” People who rate high on the scale of psychopathy have an innate ability to detect vulnerability. In a conversation with serial killer Ted Bundy, Dutton learned that Bundy “could tell a good victim from the way she walked.” Dutton later turned this insight into an experiment in which he discovered that those who rated higher on the psychopathy scale were better able to point out a smuggler than those who rated low.
In season 7, Dexter described his lizard brain, his serial killer instinct, as his “Dark Passenger.” In anatomical terms, this part of the brain is called the amygdala. For the average person, the amygdala would light up when the scenario went from impersonal to personal, signaling activity confounded by emotion. But for the psychopaths, Dutton observed no difference in amygdala activity when the scenario went from impersonal to personal, much like Dexter’s dark passenger. “In psychopaths there’s a neural curfew in that part of the brain that has no emotion under pressure. The average brain would be going crazy.”
When Michael C. Hall was asked what qualities Dexter has that he would like to adopt, he said, “His capacity for stress management. The crazier things get for Dexter, the cooler he feels. He tends to crave chaos because it soothes him. So I’d like to be cooler under pressure.”
Psychopaths excel at reading other peoples’ facial expression, which comes in handy if they want to manipulate someone. They have a better-than-average ability to tell whether someone else is lying or is emotionally vulnerable. Psychopaths are often charismatic, cheery, fun to be around. In their presence, Dutton said, you feel like “anything is possible.” They are goal-oriented. Super confident, they aren’t interested in what others think about them or in manifesting social norms.
Michael C. Hall noted that, playing Dexter, he is pretending to be a psychopathic killer pretending to be normal. On the other hand, at times we all have to pretend to be normal, Hall commented, adding with a sly grin, “I’m doing it right now.” And his best days on set? “I’m never more free or light than after I pretend to kill someone.”