Living in a Social World
Psy 324: Advanced Social Psychology
Spring, 1999

A Lack of Social Intelligence

Analysis by
Kristen Allodi, Carissa Mumy
Mike Rakauskas & Liz Stricklen

Garfield by Jim Davis , Dayton Daily News, Friday,Jan 22nd, 1999

    Social Psychology can be found throughout the world and in many situations, including something as simple and frequent as the daily paper. Comics, as a reflection of the humor found in life also reflect the Social Psychological principles that apply in life. Garfield is no exception. We are drawing our analysis of this cartoon based on principles that we found including those brought up as a result of class discussion (1/26/99). Some major themes running through the strip include gender roles, norm violations and perceptions.

    Our discussion brought out ideas and themes that we had not considered in our analysis of the strip. Stereotypes, which can be defined as "beliefs about the personal attributes of a group of people" were brought up in relation to the roles that Jon and the "girl" assumed (Meyers). In a typical dating situation, the man is expected to approach the woman and initiate interaction. This is obvious in the strip, as Jon is the one approaching the woman instead of assuming that she will approach him. Another gender role (set of male and female behavior expectations/norms)  that we analyzed was the over exaggerated response of the woman (Meyers).  Her actions were a typical feminine response to such a crude comment forty years ago. The female’s role was to protect her delicate nature and defend it against harsh advances of men. The cartoon exemplifies these roles perfectly. However, this response also dates the cartoon, because in current society a comment such as "wanna arm wrestle" is not considered an affront to a woman’s dignity, but simply a strange pickup line.

    Another fascinating issue that was brought up was the relatedness of norms and how they were violated throughout the strip. These standards of how we live are usually unconscious and yet play an integral role in how we make decisions and live our lives. In the second panel, these violations are the most prevalent issues at work. Jon believes that his pick up line is completely acceptable. Yet to the woman and the reader it is clearly obvious that the line is not permissible in most social interactions. Jon’s pick up line also violated the expectations that are associated with a dating situation. There are many common lines and variations that are usually associated with this type of greeting, and this is definitely not one of them.

    Perception portrays numerous themes of social psychology within the strip. Each of the three characters shown (or not shown) had different perceptions that may or may not have been altered during the course of the comic. Jon’s perception of the "girl" was initially quite favorable. He seriously believed that she would reciprocate his feelings of attraction if he asked her to wrestle. He attributes his desire to meet her as a shared feeling between them both. Unfortunately for him, her perception of the same verbal cues was dissonant from his own, and thus Jon was not successful in his original pursuit. It was then that his self esteem (which was previously high) plummeted and he realized the error in his approach. Garfield’s expectations, however, were not changed during the course of the strip. He knew from the very beginning that Jon’s attempt would fail, and his comment clearly illustrated this attribution.

    An interesting observation of the comic is the variety of social constructs at work that may be manipulated. By changing the lines and/or expressions the entire focus of the strip is different, yet still humorous. For example, changing Jon’s expression to one of nervousness would disrupt the flow of the current comic.  However, if we also changed Garfield’s line to relate to the new situation, a whole new dynamic can occur. This example serves to illustrate that social psychology is represented in many forms and in many ways including the humor of the daily paper.


    Myers, David G. (1996). Social Psychology (5th ed.). New York: McGraw - Hill.

    Tesser, A. (1995). Advanced Social Psychology.

Additional Links:

Physical attraction:

Non verbal communication

Love definitions and types

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Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA). Last revised: Thursday, April 18, 2002 at 15:17:08 . This document has been accessed 1 times since 1 Jan 1999. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman