“Seinfeld”: Psychology Of a Major TV Phenomenon

If ever there was a television series ripe for the picking of psychopathological dysfunction in how its characters interact with the world around them, it’s Seinfeld. Over the course of its 180 episode, nine season run, the show’s four main characters, Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer would light up a copy of the DSM like a Christmas tree for all of the brightly-colored sticky notes protruding from its pages. Jeff Pearson, Paste Magazine

Pearson’s referring to recent news that Anthony Tobia, a Rutgers University associate professor, regularly uses Seinfeld to teach psychology (“Psy-feld”) to medical students, something he started doing in 2009.

According to CBS News, Tobia views Jerry as having obsessive compulsive traits, Kramer as having schizoid traits, Elaine as having “an inability to forge meaningful relationships,” George as egocentric—and Newman as “very sick.” Furthermore, at least five of Elaine’s boyfriends are deemed to have delusional disorders.

Social psychologist Sam Sommers not only teaches Seinfeld but also uses it in other parts of his work. “The Science of Seinfeld,” in fact, is an article by him that made the rounds around the same time that his book Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World  (2011), which also contains useful info about the sitcom, hit the shelves.

An intro by the author to Situations Matter: “In the opening chapter of my book, I argue that in daily life we tend to see other people the same way we watch sitcoms, expecting to encounter familiar characters who act the same from episode to episode. Because when you think about it, although we call these shows ‘situation comedies,’ they depend on stable personalities. Most of the time, Seinfeld was no different. But it was also the rare show self-referential enough to pull off a joke suggesting that the eccentric characters we had come to know were actually just products of their immediate environments…”

A.J. Jacobs, author of My Life As An Experiment: “I loved Situations Matter. True, I read it while sitting on my comfortable couch, but I bet I would have loved it no matter the situation, even if I read it submerged in ice-cold water. Sam Sommers shows us the surprising extent to which humans are influenced by external factors. It’s a fascinating read, and one that will improve your life in many ways, whether dealing with road rage, choosing a spouse, or trying to handle your boss.”

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