Cracking the Popularity Code

We live in an age obsessed with popularity. Adults spend more and more of their time thinking, and behaving, like high school students. In a new book — called, yes, “Popular” — the psychologist Mitch Prinstein explores popularity with a scientist’s eye. Prinstein, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, argues that there are, in fact, two types of popularity and that we, as a culture, have settled on the more dysfunctional type. There is, he says, a better way. He answered questions from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook.


It does. Quite remarkably in fact. Research findings suggest that even forty years later, we can predict who will graduate from high school or college, who will succeed at work, who will apply for welfare/social services, and who may suffer from debilitating mental health difficulties or addictions all by knowing how popular folks were in high school. Our popularity even predicts our physical health – those who were least popular in childhood are more likely to have cardiovascular and metabolic illnesses decades later than those who were well-liked. One analyses suggested that the risks of unpopularity on our mortality is as strong as the risks that come from smoking!

What may be most surprising, however, is that our popularity plays a role that cannot be accounted for by our socioeconomic status, IQ, family background, prior mental health difficulties, or our appearance. There’s something about the way we are regarded by others that changes our life trajectories quite meaningfully and substantially....more