Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

College professor uses Seinfeld to illustrate psychological disorders

Illustration for article titled College professor uses iSeinfeld /ito illustrate psychological disorders

To anyone who has ever told you can’t succeed in college by sitting around watching reruns, the Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School offers a rebuttal with its course nicknamed “Psy-feld.” Open to third- and fourth-year medical students, “Psy-feld” is taught by Dr. Anthony Tobia, an associate professor of psychiatry, and requires students watch a rerun of Seinfeld on TBS every Monday and Thursday.

The students are then expected to use their knowledge of psychopathology in class to discuss the various psychological disorders present in the characters on the show—for example, recognizing that Newman is a “very sick” individual whose “sense of self, his meaning in life, is to ensure that he frustrates Jerry.” Or that the entire group suffers from various “maladaptive” traits that make the show work. “When you get these friends together the dynamic is such that it literally creates a plot: Jerry’s obsessive compulsive traits combined with Kramer’s schizoid traits, with Elaine’s inability to forge meaningful relationships and with George being egocentric,” Tobia says.

Dr. Tobia himself has developed a database that covers all 180 episodes of the series and their teaching points, and published a paper in the journal Academic Psychiatry titled “Psy-feld: An Innovative Didactic Using the TV Show Seinfeld to Teach Delusional Disorder Subtypes” which analyzed student responses to the traits of five of Elaine’s boyfriends. (The paper leaves undecided which of those boyfriends were sponge-worthy.)


For those who can’t get into “Psy-feld,” Tobia also teaches a monthly elective seminar that requires students to attend a film screening (some recent selections have included Silver Linings Playbook, The Matrix, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Fargo, War Of The Worlds, and Forrest Gump), where their live-tweets about the psychological conditions of the characters appear at the bottom of the screen. Watching Seinfeld, live-tweeting Fargo… It’s a probably a reasonable guess that he gets some pretty spectacular end-of-the-semester student evaluations.

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