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“Young Sheldon” (2017): Character Case Study Report

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Updated: Jun 20th, 2022

Introduction: Character Background Information

Sheldon Cooper is a prominent example of a child’s unusual development pattern as presented in popular culture. The comedy television series, of which he is the titular character, serves as a prequel to a popular show called “The Big Bang Theory.” The purpose of “Young Sheldon” is to show his younger years, as the adult version of the character was known for his genius combined with a complete lack of social literacy. Accordingly, the prequel focuses on the childhood of Sheldon Cooper, who lives in the South of the United States with his family. His mother is highly religious, whereas his father’s image remains typical for situational comedies. The primary feature of the character stems from his unique intelligence. Sheldon attends high school from the age of nine, taking classes with his older brother, which serves to highlight his rapid intellectual development. Simultaneously, the psychosocial aspect of his personality is portrayed through the character’s relationships with other people, becoming the primary source of comedy within the series. Overall, the character of Sheldon Cooper is an exaggerated representation of a child prodigy and presents interesting opportunities for personal development analysis.

Cognitive development

The superior intellect of the series’ titular character signifies his considerable degree of cognitive development and becomes his central feature. Despite being nine years old at the beginning of the series, Sheldon Cooper is allowed to attend high school, where he regularly outperforms his older classmates, including his brother. He is able to grasp and analyze various sophisticated concepts within the fields of physics and mathematics. Furthermore, he demonstrates critical abstract thinking on multiple occasions, and Sheldon’s main area of interest is theoretical physics. Based on Piaget’s model of personal development, Sheldon Cooper can be placed in the Formal Operational category, which usually encompasses a person’s life from adolescence to adulthood (Slavin, 2018). He is capable of manipulating abstract concepts and ideas while considering literal variables used in theoretical physics.

At the same time, Sheldon’s zone of proximal development is considerable, as he owes most of the knowledge to his own superior intellect. In Lev Vygotsky’s works, this concept refers to the extent to which an individual is capable of learning without external help (Slavin, 2018). Sheldon’s family is shown to be rather typical in terms of intelligence, and even high school teachers often remain staggered by the boy’s intellectual capability. Accordingly, he does most of the learning himself, as the external help is simply inefficient. Sheldon’s private speech and self-reflection are quite developed, as he often struggles to find a match in terms of cognitive abilities. As such, he speaks to himself when solving challenging tasks, and even the show is sometimes narrated by his older version from the mother-series. Sheldon’s interaction with other children of the same age is limited, as he attends high school and does not want to engage with people whose cognitive ability he sees as inferior.

Psychosocial stages of development

Sheldon Cooper has a highly complex personality, as his levels of development remain inconsistent across various aspects. While he demonstrates outstanding cognitive abilities of an adult person, his physical age plays a role of higher importance in other situations. Sheldon’s internal conflict is conditioned by the disbalance between his intelligence and his social status. While the boy enjoys science, he is sometimes shown to hesitate about his future life choice. In rare honest conversations with his relatives, Sheldon implies that he may miss some of the pleasant aspects of childhood. In other words, the titular character of the series continues to find his own identity and decide what he wants to be. Erik Erikson would place him on stage five of psychosocial development, in which the pursuit of identity clashes with personal confusion of future life prospects (Slavin, 2018). This phase is typical for teenagers, meaning that Sheldon’s psychosocial development exceeds his physical age, although not as much as his cognitive abilities do.

Social or pro-social behavior

On the other hand, Sheldon Cooper’s social skills serve as his primary weakness. The boy is repeatedly seen in an awkward situation, as he lacks an understanding of important aspects of social interaction. For example, he relies heavily on his scientific knowledge, disregarding uninteresting disciplines and even attacking people for their personal beliefs. Mrs. Cooper is highly religious, and her prodigy of a son does not share these views. As a result, the topic of God and faith often becomes a source of conflict within the series, as Sheldon is tactless. He also refrains from profound social bonds outside his family. Sheldon attends classes with students who are several years older than him, and the superiority of his intelligence does not compensate for the difference in age. Sheldon’s anti-social behavior is conditioned by the fact that an individual’s inner resources are finite, especially at such a young age. The greater emphasis on knowledge and science has led to profound social adaptation difficulties for the titular character.

Moral stages of development

“Young Sheldon” is a hypertrophied representation of a boy with advanced intellectual abilities. As such, the titular character relies exclusively on his cognitive abilities in his view of the world and decision-making processes. In this regard, Piaget’s scale of moral development would place Sheldon Cooper in the category, which is appropriate for his age – autonomous morality. It is also called moral relativism, and, at this stage, a child starts to follow their own standards (Slavin, 2018). For Sheldon, autonomous morality is a norm dictated by his superior intelligence. He believes that a higher degree of knowledge renders him entitle to his personalized decision-making paradigm, which ignores people with less developed cognitive abilities. Kohlberg’s theory appears less instrumental for such a complex character as Sheldon Cooper, but it is possible to apply it. The boy shows the traits of the second stage, which is instrumental orientation. In other words, Sheldon concentrates on the personal benefits of social interaction.


In conclusion, “Young Sheldon” is a television series, which presents an interesting example of a prodigy child. However, the lack of balance within his personality is not uncommon, and his example may serve as a valuable reference point for researchers. Cognitive abilities form the core of Sheldon’s development, as his intelligence is unmatched by his peers and even older students. At the same time, while Sheldon’s psychosocial development exceeds the usual progress at his age, the gap is not as considerable as in the case of cognition. Moreover, the intellectual advantages are actively compensated by the lack of social skills often exhibited by Sheldon. His moral development is normal for a nine-year-old boy, as well. Accordingly, a child’s personality is a complex construct defined by the relations between its facets. The example of Sheldon Cooper proves that it is unwise to consider but one aspect of development, as the resources of a young person are finite. Ultimately, advanced development in one area has the potential to lower the person’s capacity in others, meaning that quality growth requires the right balance.


Slavin, R. E. (2018). Educational psychology: Theory and practice. New York, NY: Pearson.

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