Sheldon Cooper
By: Ashley Angle
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Biography

Sheldon Lee Cooper is a fictional character on the show The Big Bang Theory. He was born in Galveston, Texas to his mother Mary and father George. He also has an older brother and a twin sister. His mother was a very devout Christian and she basically forced her beliefs onto Sheldon very early, all of which he rejected. Sheldon was found to be very smart at a very young age. At age 14 he began his doctoral work, but was often bullied by children in his neighborhood because of his intellect and narcissistic personality. Currently Sheldon is a published theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology. He lives in Pasadena, California with his roommate Leonard Hofstadter. He does not have many friendships and only forms relationships with Leonard’s friends, Howard Wolowitz and Rajesh Koothrapali, and with his neighbor from across the hall, Penny. He is very focused on his work, is very narcissistic, and does not really see the value of forming relationships with others.


Psychoanalytic Perspective


Sigmund Freud based his Psychoanalytic Perspective on the unconscious. He believed there are many unconscious things in our mind that we are unaware of, but cause certain parts of our conscious behavior. Freud also believed that a person’s childhood experiences may cause them to have a certain personality in later life. In regards to Sheldon, a Psychoanalyst would most likely say that he had an issue overcoming the Anal Stage of Psychosexual Development. A person who does not overcome this stage is said to be more neat and anal retentive as an adult, needing to have everything precise. Sheldon definitely fits the criteria for this. He has to have everything neat and his own way. He had seen Penny’s dirty apartment one episode and had to break into her apartment to clean it just so he would be able to sleep at night. He has a specific seat he sits in, fitting his ridiculous seat criteria, and he will not let anybody else sit in it. He will not let anybody in his room, has a roommate agreement that is the size of a novel, has a specific food assigned for every night of the week, and has various other policies that to anybody else, including his friends, would seem crazy. Freud would probably also say that Sheldon is intellectualizing because of his mother’s religious pressure as a child and the fact that he was being made fun of. He chooses to put the pain of his childhood in the back of his mind and instead focuses on becoming the best physicist he can be. He even becomes very cocky about it, saying he’s most definitely going to win a Nobel Prize one day and that those around him are inferior, probably trying to reclaim his superiority that he maybe did not feel when he was around his mother and the children in his neighborhood.


Trait Perspective

Gordon Allport formed a theory of personal dispositions consisting of cardinal dispositions which were a person’s ruling passions and central dispositions which were a person’s fundamental qualities. In regards to cardinal dispositions, a love of science and narcissism would definitely be traits for Sheldon. His whole life revolves around science and figuring out the secrets of the universe. He so frequently thinks highly of himself that you could associate narcissism with him. In regards to central dispositions, these would be Sheldon’s basic traits such as intelligence and honesty. Sheldon is obviously a very intelligent person and this is evident throughout the entire show. Another trait that is not as obvious is his honesty. He frequently has difficulty lying and has difficulty determining when being blatantly honest is socially inappropriate.

According to the Big Five a person will be either high or low on 5 different personality traits: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. According to a trait theorist, Sheldon would be very low on extroversion. He is not sociable at all and would prefer to be alone at his house playing video games. It only seems he strives to be around people when it is convenient to him, like when he needs a ride or a person to play video games with. He would also be very low on agreeableness. Sheldon isn’t somebody that you would call “friendly.” He is extremely difficult to talk to and frequently uses difficult language that other people may not understand. He is not modest at all and, as I said, is frequently narcissistic and believes he is smarter than those around him. He also has trouble keeping secrets and often inadvertently tells them because they cause him anxiety. Something that Sheldon would be high on, however, would be conscientiousness. He is definitely not impulsive and needs to have everything planned out. He went on a road trip before with his friends and had everything planned out from bathroom breaks to who would be sitting in each seat in the car. He can’t have any type of food except his designated food for the day, from the exact place that he usually gets it. Otherwise he will be extremely angry and anxious. He is also very persistent when it comes to the things he wants. Leonard would not let Sheldon come with him to Germany in one episode, and Sheldon was persistent in trying different things to get Leonard to change his mind. In one episode, Sheldon could not figure out the answer to a physics problem and he stayed up for 3 days straight to try to figure it out. It is obvious that Sheldon does not like to give up. Another trait that Sheldon would be high on is neuroticism. Sheldon frequently shows that he has anxiety over things, such as when somebody sits in his seat or when he knows something isn’t clean, and he frequently shows his vulnerable side as well. He was locked out of his apartment during one episode and stayed with Penny for the night. He had trouble sleeping and asked Penny to sing to him so he would feel more at home, he then thanked Penny for letting him stay there, showing that under all that smart exterior he is really a very vulnerable person. Lastly Sheldon is low on openness. This very much goes with what was stated before. He doesn’t like to experience new things and does not really want to engage in new experiences. He is perfectly content with his schedule and does not see the need to change it any time soon.

The last trait perspective I will talk about will be Henry Murray’s four needs. Sheldon is very high on Murray’s Need for Achievement, which is the need to succeed in tasks set out by society. Sheldon wants, more than anything, to win a Nobel Prize for his work in Physics and he has been working towards that his entire life. However you could argue that in some aspects he is low on this need, because society tells us we should be getting married and having children at some point in our lives. Sheldon see’s no point to finding love and does not waste his time with these sorts of societal expectations. A Need for Affiliation is defined as the need to win the affection of others. In this regard, Sheldon is very low. He doesn’t feel the need to win anybodies affection because to him, all that matters is that he knows he’s smarter than everybody else. To him, if nobody else could understand that it was because they were all dumber than him. The Need for Power is the need to seek positions in which a person can exert control over others. Sheldon would be high on this need. He loves to be able to boss people around and have them view things his own way. When one of his friends needed a job, he enjoyed allowing him to work under him and would not listen to the ideas he had come up with. He also employs all his ridiculous rules onto everybody else and makes sure that they all follow them correctly. Lastly, in the Need for Exhibition, which is the need to show one's self before others and to entertain, amuse, and shock, Sheldon would be very low. Sheldon has a fear of being in front of large crowds of people and in one episode where he was supposed to give a speech, he got very nervous and needed alcohol to relieve his nerves. Since he doesn’t like to be around others, he very obviously does not feel the need to entertain or amuse others. It’s just not something he is interested in at all.

Discussion

Analyzing Sheldon Cooper from both the Psychoanalytic and Trait Perspectives gives a very broad overview of Sheldon’s complicated personality. Some definite themes are evident. Sheldon is very narcissistic and believes he is much smarter than those around him, probably stemming from the fact that he felt inferior when he was being made fun of as a child. He does not find value in friendships and instead chooses to focus on his aspirations of winning the Nobel Prize for Physics. We can also see that Sheldon needs to have things a certain way, whether that be his food, his constant cleanliness, or his need to plan out things. A much overlooked aspect to his personality, however, is his vulnerability. I think Penny is the only one who can really see it. As much as he doesn’t want to have relationships, he really does need them not only for convenience, but on some level he really does enjoy becoming close to people, now he just needs to figure this out for himself.


References

Episode List for The Big Bang Theory. (2007-2011). Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0898266/episodes
The Big Bang Theory: Sheldon Lee Cooper. (2011). Retrieved from http://bigbangtheory.wikia.com/wiki/Sheldon_Lee_Cooper