Living in a Social World
Psy 324: Advanced Social Psychology
Spring, 1998

Pill Poppin' Panacea

Analysis by
Shyla Gorman, Seth Hall & Merritt Posten

reality.jpg (44669 bytes)
Reality Check by Dave Whamond, 2/15/98


   The above comic strip (Pill Poppin' Panacea) illustrates many different social psychological principles. On the surface the topics aggression, social norms, authority and the medicalization of society can easily be depicted in this cartoon but the class discussion proved very useful in taking these topics even further. In this comic it is assumed that the reason that The Incredible Hulk was in therapy was because his behavior was unaceptable in society and it did not fit "normal" behavior. It is in the nature of the Incredible Hulk to be an aggressive and muscular individual, and therefore be seen as a threat to society. Due to these cultural stereotypes, it can be assumed that he was sent into therapy. The nature of aggression goes against what is accecptable bahavior in a rational society. Aggression can be defined as "behavior directed toward the goal of harming or injuring another human being who is motivated to avoid such treatment" (Kingsbury, 225). This is a curious fit to the Incredible Hulk, who consistently used his strength and power for the good of society, but was often misjudged. The norms (shared expectations of how group members should behave) of our society suggest that people behave in a calm and rational manner with a positive appearance and a happy disposition. Even when people try to break the established norms, they are conforming to an entirely different set of norms within the "deviant" set. These alternative actions fit into a stereotype of what is acceptable deviant behavior and in that, they are conformists just as much as the rest of society. In thinking about what one would expect from a outcast or introvert's homepage, these two examples fit the expectations and the stereotypes very well.

    The class members brought into the discussion the interaction between group dynamics and peer pressure within groups. The status system model (Tesser 437) says that all group members are not equal but that there is a distribution of power within the group. This phenomena creates a pressured environment that pushes some people into leadership positions while other members are pushed into submission. A study done by Nielsen and Miller studies the effects of norms regarding group decision rules, (Neilsen 517). Their study illustrated that people preferred majority rule over seniority rule but that the seniority in the group shifted with the majority according to the amount of positive feedback. The norms within the group and the leadership of the members shifted in accordance with what was successful as a whole, (Neilsen, 525). In the same way, doctors and patients have a unique relationship. The doctor, because he is a doctor, is automatically in a position of authority. Instead of recommending ways for the Hulk to manage or control his anger, he is told to take a mind-altering drug to rectify his seemingly unacceptable predicament. Cialdini discusses the doctor-patient relationship in this way, "It is instructed that the mere symbols of the physician's expertise and authority are enough to trip the mechanism that governs authority influence,"(Tesser 273). These symbols can be clearly seen in this comic strip and the obvious relationship of the doctor and the patient.

    Many people rely on drugs in order to control their every day lives. This dependence has the ability to create a society filled with zombies. These medically "dependent" people are products of our society and its reliance upon drugs as a tertiary treatment for all of life's problems. It is more acceptable to be "happy" and well-adjusted than to be angry and depressed. This "Brave New World" society that we have the possibility of creating, could change our own social identities. People's desire to conform to the in-group is one way that they can express their social identity, (Jetten 1222). It is difficult to draw the line between what level of medication is helpful and what level is potentially harmful. If the norms in society change to where it is a normal response to pop a pill when life gets a little tough then membership in society could be significantly altered. Jetten (1996) says that, "If membership in an established group makes the task more meaningful, participants' behavior ... may be more susceptible to the influence of group norms,"(Jetten 1231). The medicalization of society is fast becoming a social norm with the numerous drugs available for many ailments and dispositions.

    Two very common and controversial drugs are Ritlin and Prozac. The number of people prescribed these drugs is increasing every day. Today there are not as many attempts to teach and utilize behavioral techniques as there are people prescribed Prozac and Ritlin. It has gotten to the point where Prozac is advertised in daily magazines and teachers have the ability to prescribe Ritlin to their "unruly" students. Each of these topics (aggression, social norms, authority and medicalization) all come together in the comic strip the "Pill Poppin' Panacea". One topic ties to the other in that, the norms of society dictate our behavior and unacceptable behavior (aggression) can lead one to try other attempts to join the in-group. If taking medicine to alter our behavior is suggested by an authority as a means to gain acceptability in society, it is often chosen as the route to take. This cartoon shows us that the aspects of social psychology are in all aspects of our lives.


    Jetten, Jolands. "Intergroup norms and intergroup discrimination: Distinctive self-categorization and social identity effects." Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 1996. v71n6, Dec. p. 1222-1233.

    Kingsbury, Steven J. "A two-factor model of aggression." Psychiatry 1997. v60n3 Fall p.224-232.

    Nielsen, Michael E. "The transmission of Norms regarding group decision rules." Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin 1997. v23n5, May p.516-525.

    Tesser, Abraham. Advanced Social Psychology. McGraw-Hill, inc. Boston, Mass. 1995.

Back to Top
Back To Psy 324 Home Page

Back to Other Cartoons

Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA). Last revised: Thursday, April 18, 2002 at 15:17:10 . This document has been accessed 269 +  1  times since 1 Jan 1998. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman