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September 4

What’s your damage, Heather?

Filed under: News,Psychology — posted by Abby @ 8:24 pm

So now that youngsters (myself included) are heading back to school, let’s discuss the persistent annoyance of POPULARRRITTTTY. My bespectacled, retainer-clad self has always secretly loathed these social rankings. I always give off that what-EVER vibe, but secretly, I rely on the mantra of the social-success-challenged: “You’ll be sorry when I’m older, when I’ll be far greater than this.” Mom’s version: “They won’t grow up to be nearly as great as you!”

Could either of us be actually — scientifically — correct? A recent article in the New York Times explored various sociological studies of popularity, suggesting, for one thing, that those with aggressive, dominating attitudes within the hallowed high school halls (you know, those that lettered in every sport, ever, including picking on you) carried those traits into the “real world” … where they didn’t go over well. (Picture Emily Blunt’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, who was probably a popularity nightmare in high school.)

Some of the data confirms exactly what some of us choir nerds could have told researchers, if they’d only noticed us. “Surveys suggest that about 50 percent of students are average — that is, they have good friends but are neither especially liked nor disliked by classmates. The remaining 30 to 35 percent are split between low-status or ‘rejected’ students, who are on the bottom of the heap, and neglected ones, who don’t show up on the radar at all. …’We have evidence that the neglected kids are the ones most likely to move up, or to move between groups,’” Dr. [Mitchell] Prinstein [of USC] told the Times. “These are the ones with no established reputation, they kind of blend into the woodwork, and this can give them a kind of freedom.”

However: “The same cannot be said of the rejected group, on the lowest rung on the ladder. In several remarkable studies, researchers have brought together students from different schools, representing different levels of the social hierarchy. Within hours, sometimes less, the children assume their accustomed places — the popular ones on top, the socially awkward on the bottom. Climbing out of the geek ghetto is hard.”

But! Sometimes we think we’re more popular than we are — and that’s actually good news. “A yearlong study of 164 students ages 13 and 14, published in May, found that the teenagers’ rating of their own popularity — regardless of their peers’ ratings — was a strong predictor of their psychological and academic adjustment,” said the Times.

“What this tells me is that we ought to be asking kids themselves where they stand,” said Dr. Kathleen Boykin McElhaney,  lead author of this particular study. “If you feel like you fit in, wherever it is you fit in, then you’ll fare well.”‘


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