Cool Kids: New Study Diagnoses Popularity



A new study has shed some comforting light on the bizarre social phenomenon that is popularity. Essentially, they asked a group of people, familiar with each other, questions about how the person that they saw felt, and how much they wanted to befriend them, while monitoring their brain activity via MRI scans. My experience moving around as a child confirm the study’s results: I never really broke into the “in crowd” that everyone secretly desires. People considered popular tend to recognize social status more than us, let’s say, “outsiders.” The “in crowd” in the study generally spent significantly more energy cultivating relationships with other people they deemed to be popular. Those of us “outsiders” give a relatively similar value to all people regardless of social standing or Twitter followers.

According to the study, the reason I ate lunch alone in elementary school was because I held very little social value as the new kid. Not to say that I don’t have value: I can be funny and I’m (relatively) nice, but since I didn’t already have a stable group of friends, the popular people didn’t see me as a target for friendship. It’s easy to see how this human truth applies over an entire social life, like the first frantic weeks of college or the tumultuous training at a new job. The rift between popular and social pariah simply stems from our unique social behavior and development.

So how did the Regina Georges of the world get that way? Well, the study explains that popular people generally have better social cognition and know how to adapt to different people. In common language: they know how to look and sound cool to an array of people. You can probably think of someone that everyone likes who knows just the right thing to say. To me, more Damian than Regina, this level of social awareness and work sounds exhausting. (Maybe that’s also why I like to drink beer and watch Trailer Park Boys alone.) But since the lunchroom dynamics (sadly) don’t end when we graduate, you shouldn’t let your number of Facebook friends or standing brunch dates define you. As long as you have your support group of friends, however small or #squadgoals that may be, there’s no reason to worry over how many likes your coworker got on her new profile picture.

Feature photo by Yi Yu courtesy of Unsplash