Sheldon may have been TV’s funniest physicist for over a decade on CBS, but the iconic science geek occasionally dabbled with psychology in his conditioning of Leonard’s love interest Penny. Unfortunately, one Big Bang Theory fan has revealed his terminology was all over the place between episodes.
Penny (played by Kaley Cuoco) frequently fell out with Sheldon (Jim Parsons) thanks to his arrogance and superior intelligence.
After several seasons of the popular CBS sitcom, she eventually got on equal footing and became a worthy member of Sheldon and Leonard’s (Johnny Galecki) exclusive group of geeks.
However, this didn’t stop Penny frequently becoming an unwitting guinea pig for Sheldon’s slightly unethical human experiments.
At an earlier point in the series, Sheldon still perceived Penny as intellectually inferior and therefore susceptible to conditioning her behaviour.
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During the season three episode, The Gothowitz Deviation, Penny moves into Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment when her bed breaks.
Initially an irritating new roommate, Penny’s attitude starts to change when Sheldon rewards her for what he considers good behaviour with a piece of chocolate.
Although the experiment clearly works, one eagle-eyed fan realised Sheldon’s terminology was not up to scratch.
They took to Reddit when they noticed a major contradiction during a later episode in season eight.
Redditor Quasirationalthinker posted: “In the episode where the guys are taking a science retreat, Sheldon says that in the Ghostbusters one of the characters says “negative reinforcement” (removing an unpleasant stimulus) when he means “positive punishment” (introducing an unpleasant stimulus).”
In the fifth episode of season eight, The Focus Attenuation, Sheldon rightfully points out a minor flaw in the Ghostbusters’ technical lingo.
Unfortunately, Sheldon seemingly goes against his own psychological know-how when he floats the idea of introducing an unpleasant stimulus to condition Penny in season three.
The fan continued: “When Sheldon is trying to modify Penny’s behaviour to his desires, he tells Leonard that he could change her behaviour more quickly with negative reinforcement and mentions mild electric shocks.”
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While this terminology would sound correct to the average viewer, Sheldon would know his proposal shouldn’t actually be referred to as negative reinforcement.
If the roommate from Hell did step over the line and start controlling Penny’s behaviour with electric shocks, this would actually be classed as positive punishment.
Finally, the viewer added: “While it’s possible that Sheldon didn’t know the different terminology at the time, this is unlikely because in the episode he mentions being inspired by behaviourism and these two are basic terms in that field of psychology.
“What Sheldon is describing there is actually called “negative punishment”. So much for him being smart.”
Another fan agreed and added: “Sheldon is almost always wrong when he talks about anything. He even gets nerdy facts (eg, about comics, sci-fi, etc.) wrong all of the time.”
Even though The Big Bang Theory claimed to be one of the smartest shows of TV, blunders like this highlight how often the writers neglected to do a key piece of research.
Thankfully, most fans overlooked these types of blunders and the popular sitcom continued to pull in millions of viewers up to the last episode.
The Big Bang Theory seasons 1-12 are available to stream on Netflix.