Personality Disorders: The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper

Sheldon Cooper, superbly portrayed by Jim Parsons on CBS's The Big Bang Theory, is a very complex guy. Some might agree that he is brilliant only at the things he is passionate about and inept at anything else. Sheldon lives with, and works in the same university as, his friend Leonard Hofstadter. The show takes place predominantly in their apartment where they are often visited by two friends and CalTech colleagues, Rajesh Koothrappali and Howard Wolowitz. These four friends often get themselves involved in funny situations, initially with just Penny, who lives next door to Sheldon and Leonard, but later on with other characters as well.

Many of the episodes are centered around Sheldon Cooper's quirks and nuances. Sheldon's behavior and thought patterns align closely with some personality disorders. Perhaps he is suffering from more than one personality disorder.

*Note: For people to be diagnosed with a personality disorder, the "symptoms" have to be chronic and interfere with everyday life.

A Cup of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder

People who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) exhibit the following characteristics. They:

  • are preoccupied with orderliness, rules and regulations;
  • function well with lists and schedules;
  • are perfectionists;
  • are rigid and inflexible;
  • and need to be in control.

We see the OCPD part of Sheldon Cooper in the very first, pilot episode. Sheldon has a "thing" with sitting in "his seat" in the apartment he shares with his roommate, Leonard. Sheldon tells his rationale about the seat to Leonard and next door neighbor Penny:

In the winter that seat is close enough to the radiator to remain warm, and yet not so close as to cause perspiration. In the summer, it's directly in the path of a cross-breeze created by opening windows there and there. It faces the television at an angle that is neither direct, thus discouraging conversation, nor so far wide as to create a parallax distortion. I could go on, but I think I've made my point.

Another obsessive-compulsive part of Sheldon's personality comes out when he is knocking on either Penny's front door or Leonard's bedroom door to get their attention. Sheldon feels the need to knock three times in a row, quickly, before saying the person's name, then knock three more times in a row, quickly, before saying the person's name again, and finally, knock three more times in a row, quickly, and then say the name again. For example:

Knock, knock, knock, "Penny ...."

Knock, knock, knock, "Penny ...."

Knock, knock, knock, "Penny ...."

At one point, Penny opens the door after the second set of knocks and interrupts Sheldon's usual pattern. Before Sheldon can respond or move forward, he has to get in the last set of knocks. Then, after all three sets are released out of his system, he is then able to proceed. He can't just leave it at two.

Mee Krob
Mee Krob

Another example of Sheldon's rigidity comes emerges when dinner time rolls around. He has a daily food routine that, when broken, brings distress to his life:

  • Mondays: Dinner: Thai Food: Mee Krob with extra peanuts
  • Tuesdays: Dinner: Big Boy burger or Cheesecake Factory burger
  • Thursdays: Dinner: Giacomo's Pizza (sausage, mushrooms, and light olives)
  • Fridays: Dinner: Chang's Chinese Food: diced chicken with brown rice, spicy mustard, and low-sodium soy sauce
  • Mondays: Breakfast: oatmeal

He only has hot chocolate during the months that contain the letter "r."

These are just a small sampling of Sheldon Cooper's Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder tendencies. This list could go on and on as this is the dominant disorder of them all as portrayed by this extremely interesting character.

A Tablespoon of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD, comes across in people as a sense of entitlement. Some of the characteristics include:

  • a sense that they deserve special treatment. The world or others owe them something.
  • haughtiness and arrogance
  • a tendency to have low self-esteem, deep down inside, which can make them depressed.

With NPD, the characteristics in the first two bullets listed above are the ones that are exhibited by Sheldon Cooper. Sheldon often times will express his feeling that others owe him something. He is extremely arrogant and seems to think that he is better than everyone else.

He specifically looks down on Howard Wolowitz, one of his friends, because Howard doesn't have a PhD. Sheldon sees Howard as "just an engineer" and is very disrepectful as a result. He says, Engineering is merely the slow younger brother of physics, watch and learn gentlemen." He tells Howard, "Howard, you do not have a PhD. Your cologne is an assault on the senses, and you're not available for video games during the Jewish high holidays."

Sheldon has issues with people who he feels are not as intelligent as himself. He has a hard time communicating with Penny, his neighbor, who he says is "just a waitress." He looks down on her. Here is an exchange between the two...

  • Sheldon: Why are you crying?
  • Penny: Because I'm stupid!
  • Sheldon: That's no reason to cry. One cries because one is sad. For example, I cry because others are stupid, and that makes me sad.

Sheldon Cooper also feels that he is extremely deserving of the Nobel Prize. He has a short conversation with a former winner, Dr. Smoot...

  • Sheldon: You won the Nobel prize, what, three years ago? So you must deal with a whole lot of "what has Smoot done lately?" My thought is we continue my research as a team, you know, Cooper-Smoot, alphabetical.. When we win the Nobel Prize, you'll be back on top.
  • Dr. Smoot: With all due respect, Dr Cooper, are you on crack?
  • Sheldon: Fine, Smoot-Cooper, what a diva!

Sheldon Cooper's NPD tendencies are clear in that he feels he is superior to others in many different ways, especially intellectually. He looks down on many people and feels he deserves to be recognized for his cognitive abilities.

A Teaspoon of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

People who exhibit characteristics of Borderline Personality Disorder have short spurts of moodiness. They have a hard time calming down once they are upset. They could end up having impulsive, angry outbursts. They have a polarized view of the world and function in terms of extremes such as "all or nothing". They have a hard time focusing on anything for long.

When Sheldon Cooper doesn't get his way, he throws fits and tantrums. He is an extremist in some ways and tends to pout. He definitely has an "all or nothing" attitude. In a few episodes, when the four friends are ready to do something and Sheldon doesn't get his way, he often shuts down and doesn't want to participate at all. He sometimes ends up spending the evening by himself as a result.

Sheldon also has a hard time calming down once he is upset. It seems that his mother is the only one that can fully calm him down when he is in a funk. During one episode, Sheldon wouldn't come out of his room as he was very upset with the world. His roommate, Leonard, called Sheldon's mother, who eventually traveled from Texas to California to pull Sheldon out of his depressing pout session. On occasion, Penny will be able to calm Sheldon down, but most of the time, his mother is the only one who can calm down "Shelly," as she calls him.

Most of the time, when Sheldon pouts and pulls his "all or nothing" tactics, he comes across as an intelligent man trapped in a young boy's body, throwing childish tantrums to get his way.

A Dash of Paranoid Personality Disorder (PPD)

People who suffer from Paranoid Personality Disorder have a hard time trusting others. They constantly think that others are out to get them, taking advantage of them, or intentionally irritating them. PPD patients keep a distance from others. They also have a need to attack those they feel threatened by as they become pathologically jealous.

Of all the characters in The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper is the one that has the most difficult time trusting others. He often feels that life is unfair since others don't do things they way he does. He becomes very threatened by others who are just as intelligent and tends to mask this by putting others down. This is part of the jealousy he feels when others are successful. For years, Sheldon was not recognized for his work in the physics department as he vies for the Chancellor's Award each year. He often puts down the people who end up winning the award. During one of the episodes, without knowing that he might be the one chosen for the current year, Sheldon puts down the award winners in general.

  • Leonard: So I was just at the Dean's office and I overheard them discuss the winner of the Chancellor's Award for Physics this year.
  • Sheldon: And you've come to rub my nose in it. I'm the William Shatner of theoretical physics. All right, I'll play along. What self-important preening fraud are they honoring this year?
  • Leonard: I'm so glad you ask it like that. You.

Sheldon definitely stays away from others and isolates himself. He is happy to not have too many people around him.

  • Leonard: We need to widen our circle.
  • Sheldon: I have a very wide circle. I have 212 friends on MySpace.
  • Leonard: Yes, and you've never met one of them.
  • Sheldon: That's the beauty of it.

Oh, Sheldon!

I personally find Sheldon Cooper to be an interesting psychological case study. Some people think that he is on the autistic spectrum. Although some of his characteristics align with those found on the spectrum, I believe he has characteristics of several personality disorders. What do you think?

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Comments 29 comments

Megan Kathleen profile image

Megan Kathleen 5 years ago from Los Gatos, CA

This is a fascinating study! I would love to dive into Sheldon Cooper's brain, but I find it to be too complicated to tackle, so finding this was a delight. I would suggest, however, that you edit the title for clarity. While you discuss the many personality disorders that Sheldon may have, he does not exhibit signs of Multiple Personality Disorder which a misreading of your title may suggest.

Marco 5 years ago

Wednesday is creamy tomatoe soup day :)

BTW: Great article!

smithed profile image

smithed 4 years ago

Best TV character since Kramer on Seinfeld.

Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 3 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

You did a great job describing each disorder. The two I notice most frequently are NPD and OCD but I definitely think he's paranoid. Boderline, I'm not the familiar with but it seems like he does go from cold to hot. This a cool hub on a very unique television character.

gypsumgirl profile image

gypsumgirl 3 years ago from Vail Valley, Colorado Author

Thanks, Alecia, for reading my hub. Sheldon most definitely fascinates me. Glad you enjoyed it!

amb 3 years ago

I would say he has schizoid personality disorder.

E. Morgan 3 years ago

It's not a personality disorder. He has abnormal social responses but is unaware of it. Personality disorders are chosen abnormal behaviors. Sheldon shows an unawareness of social behavior and emotional expression typical of high functioning autism. He also has the abnormal intonation typical of autism-- which is amazing, because the actor who portrays him incredibly well, even though the actor is typically developing. Since the autism accent is nearly the hardest accent to fake, it is not exact but darn close. We used him as our guide to understanding an autism test in a training I went through last fall. ;)

Nicole S profile image

Nicole S 3 years ago from Minnesota

He is so funny! We love watching his show. I hadn't thought of these PDs before. Interesting!

Nicole Vahai 3 years ago

Sheldon does not have any disorder because he is a fictional character. LOL. Anyway, I agreed with all of the diagnosis. He definitely does the most ridiculous, childish things when he doesn't get his way, which is indicitive of borderline personality disorder. However, Sheldon truly lacks some of the most significant aspects of this disorder, so I would rule this out. I see him more as immatue and lacking intraspection. He is wicked compulsive about so many things. Rigidity should be his middle name. He is a bit paranoid, but I think this may be more of a compulsion, in terms of his perceptions of something and then obessing about it. I love the episode when he moves to some place in the middle of nowwhere to avoid crimes and gets robbed at the airport. Hilarious. He is absolutely, 100 percent narcisstic. To be a disorder it has to be causing difficulty in his daily life, and probably affecting more than one area of his life. I think that it does affect his personal and professional relationships, so I think this would qualify. What about other aspects of his Five Axis Diagnosis. Anyone like to share about this?

Nicole Vahai, B.A. (Anthropology)

MS in Mental Health Counseling Student (Walden University)

areyoukidding? 3 years ago

to the guy who said that personality disorders are "chosen behaviors"... people do not chose disordered behavior but have somehow, most often through heredity and trauma, developed a personality that evidences behaviors that are inappropriate and maladaptive. Disorders cause distress and problems in interpersonal relationships. Sheldon might be on the Autism spectrum but he more than anything has the sypmtoms of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder not OCD.

Kelly 3 years ago

I just wrote a post about how I think Sheldon has some traits of a highly sensitive person (HSP), and I stumbled upon this! Great read. I think saying he is "complex" is a good way to put it! Here's my post if interested:

Matt 3 years ago

Let's face it folks, unfortunately Autism has become the "flavor of the month" Yes, there are people who have it, but the list of symptoms for autism (low or high spectrum) is soooo broad, everyone in the world has it. My own son was misdiagnosed with it, only to find out he has vocal apraxia. Now I don't know how "close" these two things are, but let's not label the character of Sheldon with autism. But I will point out one of his phobia's, straight from his own mouth. " I'm a germ-a-phobe..."

Liz 2 years ago

Speaking as one with "classic Asperger's" (I was diagnosed before it became "fashionable"), I do find a number of Sheldon's behaviors typical of my own, I think OCD characteristics are generally typical of us, and we of course, fully know how superior we are to you "normal" (stupid) folk - because we are ;-) . Of course I'm not a psychologist, so what would I know.

I tend to think this character IS closely based on an Autistic Spectrum set of traits, just massively exaggerated - thus you could "pick it apart" and find PDs for every trait and this amplified level, and I find that marginally offensive. The distortion is of course needed for the humorous content however. I mean if Rowan Atkinson's character of Mr Bean acted in a realistic manner, he would not be humorous.

That said, I occasionally watch the show, and find it mildly humorous.

Rose 2 years ago

I agree completely with him having a personality disorder, the main one being OCPD of course.

His behavior seems a lot more like someone with a PD than one on the autism spectrum.

But I'm no psychologist, I'm just going off of all the things I have read in various places about these disorders.

M40 2 years ago

The writers definitely added some OCD characteristics to the personality of Sheldon Cooper. However I might disagree with the remainder of the analysis.

It has been mentioned on several occasions that Sheldon has an IQ of 187. This is pretty much off the charts (at least for conventional IQ testing). If you've ever met anyone with an IQ way beyond "genius" level, they tend to be eccentric folks. Most don't relate too well to "normal" folks, and this tends to stunt their social growth from an early age. This manifests in many odd behaviors.

The Sheldon character displays an extremely limited (even stunted) grasp of social concepts and niceties. He has the approximate social skills of an 8 year old child. He has no real concept of "inappropriate comments", and will say anything, to anyone, at any time. For the purposes of the show, this character flaw works very well in the comedic sense.

When Sheldon at times spins out of control, a harsh word from his mother will immediately snap him out of it like a child scolded. Also like a child, he has no concept of adult relationships, but has an overdeveloped attachment to both his mother and "Mee-maw" (grandmother).

While many highly intelligent people eschew social customs and nuances as trivial or unimportant, most learn to at least mimic the basics that are expected in daily life. However, it is revealed that the Sheldon character formed an unhealthy idolization of the Star Trek character "Mr. Spock" (and of the actor Leonard Nimoy who played him). As such, Sheldon frowns on almost all emotional thought or interaction. He has prided himself since childhood on this "quality".

To write the dialogue/actions of a Sheldon-like character, one can simply assume an 8 year old genius child with OCD... stuck in a man's body in an adult world. This explains pretty much all of his behavior and mannerisms.

Len 2 years ago

Sheldon definitely meets the criteria for having OCPD , but I highly doubt he has the other PDs you describe.

AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 2 years ago from California

Such an entertaining write!

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

This was most interesting. I've not seen the show often; it isn't a favorite of mine, probably because I do find the Sheldon character so annoying.

However, this was a fascinating analytical look into such personalities.

Enjoyed the video clip of the star on Lopez's show. Jim's voice is (naturally) very similar to Sheldon's; I can see where he exaggerates the tones for the role.

Voted up, interesting and funny.

DealForALiving profile image

DealForALiving 2 years ago from Earth

I picked up on the OCPD when watching the show, but never thought about the others. Very interesting.

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

Hiya, this was great! a good explanation of these mental problems. I love Sheldon Cooper and must have watched all the episodes at least 10 times each! and yes it does make me laugh, but I agree there are so many people with all or at least some of these illnesses, nell

can 19 months ago

you say that sheldon cooper thinks he is deserving of the nobel peace price, i think you mean the nobel physics prize.

gewinnste 19 months ago

He is a classic case of NPD. Paranoid symptoms are part of NPD and in this case don't warrant an additional diagnosis of PPD. Also, the borderline touch is there but I think an additional diagnosis of BPD wouldn't hold either - then again, maybe it would, who knows.

On axis 1 you might add OCD.

MPG Narratives profile image

MPG Narratives 19 months ago from Sydney, Australia

A very interesting way to look at a fictional character. I'm a fan of the show and find Sheldon annoying but likeable, which is why the show is funny I guess. I knew someone who had OCPD and I can tell you he was not likeable at all so I'd say the writers have used a combination of the disorders you have mentioned.

Orli 17 months ago

This was a very interesting read. But I feel that everything here can be explained by High Functioning Autism or Aspergers. It is the lack of social skills, ability to think of others, read social ques that are behind all the behaviors your described. Autism comes with OCD, Anxiety, and lot's more. As the show developed we have gotten to know Dr Sheldon Cooper far better, we get to see his sweet and caring side. This recent season is simply fantastic. and Yes, he does have a childish side and always will.

Martin 17 months ago

Hi, Amazing job in this article!!. It has helped on a project for my Psychology class. one thing, "Multiple personality disorders" is not longer a correct according to the DSM-V. "Dissociative Identity Disorder" is now a correct term . Other then that, Thanks!.

Doesn't matter 6 months ago

The writer said Sheldon doesn't have OCD

marco 5 months ago

funny thing is that in the real world a person like Sheldon would (with good (or not?) reasons) be hated, left alone, knifed in the back, and be made fun of. After all, who likes to be treated like he does?

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 5 months ago from Oakley, CA

In a recent episode I watched as a captive audience at my daughter's house, he is seen as a totally incompetent, dependent child, unable to take care of himself with a simple cold. A rather annoying trait.

Shantelle 5 weeks ago

Sheldon personality seems to resemble traits of INTJ personality type.

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