‘Seinfeld’ a study in mental illness thanks to medical school’s psychiatry course
Professor’s uncommon Psy-feld class explores behavior of sitcom’s characters before students head out for hospital rotations at Robert Wood Johnson hospital
The Seinfeld character Cosmo Kramer’s loner behavior and the seemingly imaginary world he lived in made for award-winning television. According to a group of psychiatry students in New Jersey, however, such behavior is also an indicator of mental illness.
In the course of five years, psychiatry students and their professor at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey have concluded that Kramer’s behavior is in line with that of people given diagnoses of schizoid personality disorder . They have also nailed down diagnoses for the other characters on the classic sitcom.
“Jerry has obsessive compulsive traits and issues relating to perfectionism and orderliness,” Professor Anthony Tobia told the Guardian. “George is egocentric, to a fault.”
An associate professor of psychiatry, Tobia created his so-called “Psy-feld” discussions in 2009.
Every week he updates a Seinfeld episode database, based on these discussions with students. Tobia chose to make the show the focus of his work because it is “chock full of psychopathology” – he also watches it religiously, so it was not difficult to incorporate into his off-duty hours.
“At 9 o’clock sharp the students know they need to attend and be prepared to discuss the episode they watched the night prior,” Tobia said.
Tobia is confident in the diagnoses students have determined and said students have noticed things he had not, like the fact that Elaine might have once made a reference to her father being an alcoholic.
Tobia said that while that part of the show’s plot was unconfirmed, the character played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus definitely “behaves like what we refer to as an adult child of an alcoholic”.
Typically, 12 to 15 students gather around a conference table for the discussions, before heading out for their psychiatric rotation at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
While this is not a common practice for medical schools, Tobia said that Rutgers has been incorporating media into its teaching process for many years.
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