Date of Award


Degree Type



Education and Human Services

First Advisor

Genovese, Jeremy

Subject Headings

Big bang theory (Television program), Autistic youth -- Education -- United States, Asperger's syndrome, College students with disabilities -- United States, Psychoanalysis and television, Cooper, Sheldon (Fictitious character), Developmental psychology, Educational psychology, Asperger Syndrome Sheldon Cooper The Big Bang Theory Social Learning Theory Perceptions of ASD Popular Television Entertainment Education ASD Autism College Students Autism Quotient Shared Activities Questionnaire Prosocial Modeling Media


This study examines the potential mediating effects of prior knowledge regarding autism spectrum disorders and Asperger syndrome (AS), first and second-generation family ties, college major, gender, and level of exposure to Dr. Sheldon Cooper, the main character of The Big Bang Theory, on college students' perceptions of a popular television character who displays traits and characteristics of Asperger syndrome/autism spectrum disorder. Bandura's (1971a) Social Learning Theory and Social Cognitive Theory (2004b) provide the framework through which the researcher attempts to understand how popular media impacts college students' perceptions of autism spectrum disorders. A total of 102 college students (aged 18-40 years) from multiple colleges across the United States completed two instruments that were modified for use in this study: The Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ Baron-Cohen, 2001), and the Shared Activities Questionnaire (SAQ Morgan, Walker, Bieberich, & Bell, 1996). Participants also answered demographic questions relating to age, race, major, exposure to The Big Bang Theory, and a researcher-developed knowledge of autism questionnaire. Students overwhelmingly rated Sheldon Cooper as an individual with AS. Findings from the study indicate that gender, ethnicity, income level, and exposure to The Big Bang Theory were statistically significant predictors for students' rating of Sheldon Cooper as an individual with AS. Being a math/science/engineering major or having a second degree relationship with a person on the spectrum did not significantly predict students' ratings of Sheldon as an individual with AS, nor did these variables predict their desire to engage with Sheldon in an academic, social or recreational domain. Findings from this study suggest that the use of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory may be a valuable tool for working with the peers of students on the spectrum as findings suggest that repeated exposure to The Big Bang Theory reduces students' "clinicalization" of Sheldon Cooper's b

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