Big Five Admitted
Scrubs with personality
Posted Jan 28, 2014
(I wrote this essay with Andrew Smith and Yuanbo Wang.)
~ Perry Cox, MD
This year, we are turning our Big Five guns on the characters of Scrubs, the popular comedic hospital show. After starting with the European cult classic Dinner For One, we took a look at Friends and followed up with How I Met Your Mother. Whereas Dinner sported six octogenarians—four of whom dead—Friends and Mother opened a window into the U.S. American flirtation with prolonged, if not eternal, youth. Year after year, the same characters hover at the threshold of adulthood, a pose that becomes more precarious with each passing year. Mother is still hovering, which presumably will end when the mother of the poor kids who have been listening for a decade will finally come into motherhood.
These characters are caricatures. Why should one bother to rate them on a set of personality traits, as if one were rating real people or characters meant to portray real people or characters than might as well be real? Perhaps brief narrative sketches of the type we attempted here are sufficient as a description.
When personality is bestowed by observer agreement, there is no distinction between reality-based personality and metaphorical personality. Personality will emerge from the ratings as long as raters are
28 undergraduate students enrolled in the laboratory course watched season 1, episode 16 ("My Heavy Meddle") and then rated JD, Turk, Elliot, Carla, Dr. Cox, Dr. Kelso, and themselves on the five adjectives
The first set of six panels (above) shows the profiles of mean standard scores over the Big 5. For each target person, the variation over the five means indicates to which extent this person is seen as differentiated from the others. By this measure (i.e., the standard
Alternatively, we can examine the correlations among the target characters (excluding the self) over the five traits. The more positive these correlations are, the more similar two targets are to each other. The median of the 15 pairwise correlations is -.41, indicating
The second set of five panels shows the average standard scores for the six targets and the self, separately for each trait. This way of displaying the results satisfies the conventional interest in individual differences, one trait at a time. We notice that the variation of the means over targets is about the same for each trait, but this is an artifact of the method of standardization.