Navigate to News section

‘Seinfeld’ on the Medical School Curriculum

Rutgers students study the sitcom to learn about psychiatric disorders

by
Stephanie Butnick
January 02, 2015
(Rolf_52 / Shutterstock.com)

(Rolf_52 / Shutterstock.com)

What’s the deal with medical school these days? Seinfeld, apparently.

Students at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School have an unconventional assignment in addition to their regular coursework and hospital rounds: watching reruns of the sitcom on TBS and dissecting them for evidence of psychiatric disorder among the characters.

It’s called “Psy-feld,” NJ.com reports, and its a teaching tool developed by Anthony Tobia, an associate professor of psychiatry at the medical school.

“You have a very diverse group of personality traits that are maladaptive on the individual level,” Tobia told NJ.com. “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.”

It’s not such a crazy idea. Even the one-sentence description of Seinfeld on IMDb practically begs for a psychiatrist’s unpacking: The continuing misadventures of neurotic New York stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his equally neurotic New York friends.”

Tobia has logged every episode of the show’s nine series into a database, which sorts characters—principle and fleeting—into various potential diagnoses. He’s even written a paper for American Psychiatry explaining how Psy-feld helps teach students delusional disorders (using a sample group of Elaine’s boyfriends throughout the series).

That Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld created a show that so skillfully depicts such a vast range of psychological conditions that it could be the basis for actual medical study is impressive, and also a little scary. Still, with Seinfeld raking in the big bucks thanks to years of near-endless syndication, it looks like they’re getting the last laugh. A slow-building, maniacal laugh.

Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

Join Us!

All of Tablet’s latest stories—in your inbox, daily. Subscribe to our newsletter.

Please enter a valid email
Check iconSuccess! You have subscribed to the Tablet newsletter.