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Psychiatry professor teaches by diagnosing 'Seinfeld' characters

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Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer spent years on Seinfeld labeling the people they met as “low talkers” and “re-gifters.” But it appears the four of them were just begging to be diagnosed themselves, as—according to one scholar, at least—the characters suffer from actual psychiatric disorders.

Anthony Tobia, an associate professor of psychiatry at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, teaches his medical students about disorders through the characters on Seinfeld. While that may sound like a class Abed Nadir would take at Greendale, it’s actually a method Tobia has put years of work into, even dubbing his idea “Psy-feld.”

Tobia created Psy-feld in 2009, according to NJ.com, and currently tasks his students with the greatest homework assignment ever—watching episodes of Seinfeld to be discussed the next day. Third- and fourth-year medical students discuss the psychopathology on display in the episode with Tobia, who has compiled a database of all 180 Seinfeld episodes and their teachable aspects.

“When you get these friends together the dynamic is such that it literally creates a plot,” Tobia told NJ.com. “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 even wrote a paper in 2014 about Psy-feld and how much about psychiatric disorders students can actually glean from something as ridiculous as Elaine’s dating life. Tobia points to Elaine’s relationships with characters like psychiatrist Dr. Reston and “Crazy” Joe Davola to analyze delusional disorder subtypes.

The professor seems to have a psych profile for just about every character, and some are more complex than others. His take on Newman, for example: “Very sick” is the simple way of putting it, but Tobia and his students have actually found a parallel for the behavior of Jerry’s neighbor in Erik from The Phantom of the Opera.

Read a longer profile of Tobia’s class at NJ.com, or tune in to one of the half-dozen Seinfeld reruns currently airing to try to determine what disorders Uncle Leo and David Puddy are suffering from.

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