There's A Wrong Kind Of Popularity & It Might Be Ruining Your Life
“The highest status people — this is all hitting too close to home since November for us — are very, very disliked. And it’s very lonely for them. They report that they feel detached from others; isolated, like they can’t truly be themselves. Because in order to maintain that status, they can’t show any vulnerability or make close connections. People pay for that in the long run.”
"Psychologists and social scientists have found that there are two kinds of popularity: One type suggests people like us, they trust us, they want to spend time with us, they enjoy their time with us. That kind of popularity is really important — it gives us a benefit in life in so many domains, for decades, whether we experience it in childhood or if we’re likable as adults.
"Totally: About 30% of those who are the most popular — how we think about it in high school — are also very well liked; it’s possible for [likability and status] to go together. But more often they don’t. From our own high school experiences and from the media, we are really focused on that [status] popularity. But that’s not the type that existed before high school, or the type that matters after. It comes really natural to young kids to care about [the likable] kind of popularity; the other kind doesn’t really exist at all until adolescence. It's really interesting that there’s a type of popularity that’s inborn, and then a type we come to care about which comes online in those middle school and high school years, and then suddenly dominates our perception of the whole concept."
"We now know there’s this thing that happens in our brains during adolescence: It's the development of our brain, the growth of our receptors for oxytocin and dopamine. And together, those make us really crave social bonding and rewards, along with a desire for social rewards, a.k.a. the experience you get when you feel you’re being accepted or noticed or approved of. The fact that it all comes online so strongly and so quickly makes us look for any fast way to attend to our peers — to get noticed and approved of. Status emerges as a really fast way to do that."
"There are some things that are genetically passed down that really help us out with popularity — things like our interest in interacting with others socially, our physical attractiveness. But a lot of it has to do with how parents might model social behaviors for their kids... There was one study about these moms who were either very popular — and remember their childhoods as very difficult — or they were very anxious about their own experiences growing up. The popular moms had popular kids; the unpopular moms had unpopular kids, but the moms who are really anxious about their experiences growing up had popular kids, too, because the mom's invested in their kids' development and developing their kids' likable skills."
"There’s so much research now demonstrating that kids who are likable do better in just about every domain of childhood and adolescence. Even decades later: They get further in education, they get better grades, they are more resilient in the face of stress. The kids who are dislikable and unpopular: They tend to have more difficulties. They're more likely to experience mental health difficulties, substance use, to request welfare assistance later on. It’s really remarkable how powerful [likability] is. For status, though, the results are kind of the opposite: Those who are, in adolescence, the highest status, tend to have problems later in life. When they grow up, they have unfulfilling and poorer quality friendships, lower quality romantic relationships. They’re more prone toward substance abuse, and anxiety and depression."
"I finished the book before November, not realizing that [Donald Trump] would provide a contrast to the conversation, in a way that illustrated the difference between status and likability that's better than I could even imagine… I think one of the things that's really interesting is that we now have a president who has such an insatiable, explicit desire to be popular that it’s off-putting. Whether it’s the crowds or the popular vote or elbowing his way to the front of the camera, it’s just a bald-face desperate attempt for status.
"One of the things that defines 'cool' is a casual style of not trying too hard. It’s very important to be seen as somebody who has achieved a level of status without having stepped on others, or having been overly self-focused in order to get it. Self-focused is definitely a turnoff, and it takes away from status even though it is the very thing that needs to happen [for someone] to get it. Some research shows that those who have the highest status are actually quite socially skilled, and capable of being subtle in their attempts to gain it. The problem is: Ultimately, the goal of what they’re searching for is perhaps the wrong goal — to seem better than others, rather than to join with others."
"They search for status instead of likability — and then wonder why they never feel fulfilled or popular enough. We’ve all had that experience of activity on social media and getting some attention for it: It feels good for a moment or two but it doesn’t last. Beyond people looking for the wrong kind of popularity, they think that if they put themselves into a new context they can be popular in that context. But no matter what you try and where you go and what context you put yourself in, if you don’t address how you are still wearing unpopular-colored glasses, you won’t realize that you’re seeing the world in a biased way."
"We know a couple things about this: One is that, for males, the relationship between status and likability is modest — those who are high in one can be high in the other. But for females, they are completely inversely associated: It is very hard for females to have both likability and high status. The second thing we know is: There is a lot of work that has demonstrated how much girls are socialized from a very early age that they are 'supposed to be' good at relationships. It’s kind of why, Mean Girls style, if you want to hurt a girl, then you have to damage her relationships. Girls who experience stress in the peer domain have far worse outcomes than boys who experience the same exact interpersonal stress."
The highest status people — this is all hitting too close to home since November for us — are very, very disliked. And it’s very lonely for them.
"A graduate student in my lab found that there are people who use social media in a way that heavily emphasizes social comparison: looking for feedback from others. That is the kiss of death when it comes to risk for depression. If you’re going on social media, looking at others and comparing yourself to decide if you’re as good as others, especially if you’re unpopular, it is a very big risk factor for depression. We've also recently been looking at what we’re calling 'digital status seeking' — people who explicitly go on social media to gather as much attention as they can on their feeds. That leads to all the same negative outcomes that we see for offline status seeking, as well. For young kids, it [can] lead to substance problems, or to self cutting; it’s just not a good recipe for happiness.