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Betty and Veronica: The Psychology Behind the Timeless Comic Book Icons

A neuropsychologist weighs in on what the iconic duo can teach us about ourselves

If you grew up reading Archie comics, you likely remember Betty and Veronica, the dynamic duo who constantly competed for the freckle-faced boy next door’s affections. First introduced in 1941, Archie and his friends came to embody all-American midcentury teen culture, and eight decades after the characters were first introduced, they’re still going strong — and have grown modern audiences with their own social media presence on Instagram, Facebook and more.

There have been numerous Archie comics series over the years. Plus, the over-the-top teen CW soap opera Riverdale introduced the Archie gang to a new generation of fans — it recently wrapped up after seven successful seasons.

Betty and Veronica with Archie

So, what makes Betty and Veronica endure, when so few things that originated in the ’40s are still with us? The characters occupy an almost mythic status at the intersection of retro kitsch and timeless classic. With their stylish outfits, contrasting personalities and all too common “frenemy” relationship, Betty and Veronica are eternal teen icons.

Betty, Archie and Veronica surrounded by hearts

Getting to know Betty Cooper

Betty is the quintessential all-American girl. First introduced with her signature blonde hair in a very ’40s pinup ‘do, she soon got the high, perky ponytail we know today. Betty is kind, good-humored and hard-working, and she only has eyes for her red-haired, goofy on/off boyfriend. While Betty and Veronica are constantly paired, and contrast one another perfectly, Betty was actually introduced before Veronica, making her first appearance in 1941 (Veronica came into the picture in 1942). The characters were created by John Goldwater and Bob Montana, and Betty was inspired by Betty Tokar Jankovich, a girl Montana once dated.

Betty comic

Like Archie, Betty is middle-class and approachable. She and Veronica have gone on some unexpected adventures, with comics that have seen them fast-forwarding into the future and even fighting werewolves, but no matter what, Betty will always be known as a good girl who’d make the perfect best friend.

The confident Veronica Lodge

Just like salty peanut butter perfectly complements sweet chocolate, Veronica’s diva tendencies complement Betty’s down to earth ones. Betty and Veronica are simultaneously best friends and romantic rivals, and while the good girl/bad girl dynamic may be rooted in an earlier era, the fact that they can remain besties through it all remains captivating.

Veronica comic

As the daughter of a businessman, Veronica is the richest girl in town, and she’s not afraid to flaunt it, with a wardrobe of fancy clothes and an arsenal of sassy one-liners and glamorous, hair-flipping gestures. However, Veronica is more than just a diva. She’s not just interested in Archie for his money (he has very little of it), and while she and Betty have a rivalry, it somehow only seems to enhance their friendship. Veronica was said to be inspired by both Agatha Popoff, a rich girl Bob Montana knew in high school, and the classic Hollywood actress Veronica Lake.

The Betty and Veronica dynamic

If you grew up reading Betty and Veronica comics, you likely found something to relate to in their friendship dynamic. Some of us felt like Bettys who could benefit from some of Veronica’s boldness while others were bossy Veronicas in need of Betty’s grounded energy.

Betty and Veronica

“The dynamic between Betty and Veronica is timeless because it speaks to powerful issues that are prominent in human relationships across our entire lives,” says Julia DiGangi, PhD, neuropsychologist and author of Energy Rising: The Neuroscience of Leading With Emotional Power. “Their relationship highlights issues of love, jealousy, worthiness, desire and connection” — pretty serious stuff for a comic book! While you may not have explicitly picked up on these themes as a kid, they’re part of human nature.

Betty and Veronica comic

Opposites attract

Dr. DiGangi says the psychological competition between the characters is particularly enduring: You’ve surely heard the saying “Opposites attract,” and it’s rooted in a truth that can be found in all forms of art, from classic novels and movies to comics. There may be jealousy between Betty and Veronica, but it doesn’t ruin their friendship, and as Dr. DiGangi explains, “It’s helpful and empowering to recognize that the emotion of jealousy is not here to hurt you; it’s here to lead you to what you ultimately want. In order to be jealous of something, we must recognize, understand and desire that thing,” and this is certainly true of Betty and Veronica — their jealousy may create chaos but it also gives them motivation and, paradoxically, brings them closer together.

Betty and Veronica comic

The love triangle

The Betty/Veronica/Archie relationship is one of the most iconic love triangles in popular culture. While the love triangle in these comics is wholesome (this is a comic for kids, after all!) it gives us a template for some of the romantic joys and despairs we may face as we move into adulthood. “When we’re in the middle of our own love triangle, it often feels unbearably miserable,” says Dr. DiGangi, and this misery is something we never see in the comics.

The Betty/Veronica/Archie love triangle “allows us to safely examine and better understand emotions and experiences that are often too painful for us to handle in our real life,” she adds. There’s a security and comfort in the way these classic comics present romantic struggles in simple, playful terms, and it’s something that can be sweet to think back on as an adult.

Betty, Veronica and Archie

Betty and Veronica are more than just charming cartoon characters — they’ve inspired fashion, music, TV, movies and literature ranging from coffee table books to academic studies. “The dynamic between Betty and Veronica is ageless,” says Dr. DiGangi. Even if it’s been many decades since you read one of their comic books, there’s no denying that Betty and Veronica mix psychological resonance and transporting nostalgia.

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