Tina K. Russell

September 4, 2008

The Popular Kids

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:01 am

Dilbert.com

Mind – Spot on Popularity Scale Speaks to the Future; Middle Has Its Rewards – NYTimes.com
Social scientists map the social topology of a school by having students rate their peers on various measures, including likeability. For instance, the question “Who would you most like to hang around with on a Saturday?” quickly reveals a list of those who are considered the best company (potential dates excluded). This is a different measure of popularity from prominence — the quarterback and the cutest cheerleader may or may not qualify — and identifies a gifted class of a different kind.

Some 15 to 20 percent of high school students fall into this category, according to Mitchell Prinstein, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, and it’s not hard to find them. They tend to have closer friendships, to excel academically and to get on well with most others, including parents — their own and their friends’.

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.

Yet most youngsters in any school know who their popular, likable peers are, and can learn by observation in a dynamic social situation that, after all, lasts four years. “We have evidence that the neglected kids are the ones most likely to move up, or to move between groups,” Dr. Prinstein said. “These are the ones with no established reputation, they kind of blend into the woodwork, and this can give them a kind of freedom.”

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, even if a child knows what likeability looks like.

I always suspected high school was just a massive, sick social experiment. The article, of course, mentions how these groups don’t last, and how the personalities that are popular in high school can run into trouble later on.

I think that some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten was when I was moving to a new school, long ago. A friend told me to hold my head high and be confident, because people will be able to tell if you’re the kind of kid who gets picked on, or thinks of herself that way. It was easier for people to like me if I liked myself; and if I acted the part of the tormented, other people would just act their parts as tormentors.

That doesn’t make the social hierarchy any less bad, though. I wish it were easier to be yourself.

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1 Comment »

  1. “I wish it were easier to be yourself.”

    Word. But I dunno, social hierarchy seems to still exist among my classmates from high school. When I went back for my homecoming, I still got ignored by my social higher-ups. It’s a small town though, so maybe there’s a bell curve with which we’re not quite aligned.

    Comment by froregon — September 5, 2008 @ 3:21 pm


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