John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, and Author of Popular: Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Cares Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships UNC Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
Hey, welcome back.
I'm excited for us to continue our conversation about popularity and
last time in the last series of videos, we were talking a lot about how popularity
plays a role in affecting our adult lives, even in ways that we don't realize.
It changes the expression of our DNA, it pervades so many different aspects of our
culture and society and it even changes the way that we interpret and respond to
things, minute by minute throughout the day, just about every single day.
So what we're going to do now is we're going to take a step back and
we're going to talk about why do some people become more popular than others.
And a lot of what we're going to talk about is going to be focused on research
that's been done with kids.
But as you'll see, a lot of what we've learned about with kids is pretty
applicable to what it is that we do as adults as well that makes some of us
popular and some of us less popular.
You also might remember that one of the things that we talked about before is that
there are two different kinds of popularity.
One kind of popularity focuses on how much we're well liked by others.
We can talk about that by thinking about different groups of sociometric status.
So that's the groups that are popular, rejected, neglected,
controversial and average.
But then, there's a second type of popularity that talks about how much we
have status and dominance compared to others.
We're going to focus on that first type for most of what we're talking about now.
So specifically, the different levels of being well-liked or not and
what we're going to do is talk about four different areas that seem
to tell us a lot about why some people are popular more than others.
And those areas are the kinds of social behaviors that we engage in,
what it is that we look like, both our faces and our bodies.
The interesting way that intelligence plays a role in affecting our popularity
and then what it is that our parents might have done that affected
how popular we are today or how rejected we are.
So let's get started.
You might remember that last time,
we talked about a really cool study that was done by John Coie and
Janis Kupersmidt that involved bringing kids into a playgroup.
Now these were kids that were picked from five different schools,
they didn't know each other at all.
And each of them,
represented one of the sociometric status groups from their old school.
So there was one kid who was popular, one who was rejected, neglected,
controversial and average.
And within just three hours, what they found was that those kids had
reestablished their same level of sociometric status among brand new peers.
Interestingly, this research was done using all boy.
Those boys were about 9 to 11 years old and they were all African American.
But around the same time, another colleague of there's,
Ken Dodge was conducting a very similar study back in India and
his research was looking at a similar paradigm.
What they did was they took kids, again, that didn't know each other at all and
put them in new play groups, but these kids were all randomly selected.
Again, they were all males.
They were just a little bit younger, seven, eight years old.
And in Indiana, these were mostly kids who were European American.
And a lot of what Coie and Kupersmidtfound,
as well as what Ken Dodge found were remarkably similar.
What they both did was they were able to go back and look at the videotapes to see
what was it that kids did in those first couple of hours playing together.
That seem to be related to which ones turned out to be popular,
which ones turned out to be rejected and so on.
So let's talk about that a little bit.
In this graph, what you'll see is how much did kids who ended
up being in one of the five categories?
How much did they initiate play with others?
What was their general disposition towards others on week one and two and
what did that look like over time?
And these data are coming from the study by Ken Dodge.
What you can see here with the black line is that the average kids engaged
in the type of behavior that most of us would expect.
So at first, they didn't know people really well.
So they weren't particularly, likely to initiate play with others,
they might have held back just a little bit.
But over time, gradually, you can see that they became more and more comfortable.
And slowly, they became the kids that started to interact with others and
initiate play more and more and more.
And then towards the end, as they had gotten to know each other,
they had found some that were a little bit more close friends.
And they might have initiated play a little bit less,
because it wasn't as necessary.
Kids just initiated play with one another automatically.
So look at that black bar and think of that as average,
what's typical, what probably most of us would do in the same situation.
Now, take a look at these rejected kids.
The rejected kids here are in blue and what's really interesting about them
is that you can see that right from the beginning,
they start off by initiating play a lot more than everybody else.
So right off the bat, they are coming in, they are trying to establish social
interactions, but something that they're doing must not be going well.
Because as you can see, while they start off being the ones initiating play
the most, they gradually do that less and less and less.
And by the end of the eight weeks, they're initiating play the least.
there's something going on that they're doing that is making it not work for them.
And because of that, they start with withdrawing,
realizing that they're not doing well.
And over just a short period of time,
they are not really the ones who are wanting to play as much as anyone else.
Now contrast that with the popular kids, who are in red.
The popular kids actually hang back, they're the ones that start off not
initiating play with anyone and they don't really change that for the entire time.
That's a really flat line that you can see.
So over time, they are not initiating play with others,
but others seem to be coming to them.
And by the end of it, they seem to be doing it average.
If not, even the second most likely to be initiating play.
So what you can see are these dramatic differences in the ways that people
initiate interactions with others.
That really seems to be related to how popular they become by the end of the play
groups, you can also see some differences too.
Those controversial kids, as you might see, they're kind of all over the place.
They start really, really high on initiating and they get really low,
but they end up somewhere in average and we'll talk about that in a little bit.
Now in this figure, what you'll see is not how much the kids themselves initiated
play with other, but how much do they just spend time interacting with others at all?
So this would reflect not only how much they started playing, but
how much others came and wanted to play with them.
And again, what you'll see is that right off the bat,
these average kids are starting off.
They're a good baseline for us to look at.
They're starting off playing with others, well, an average amount.
They're right in the middle there and they stay that way the whole time.
So some kids play with them, some kids don't.
They're generally, doing a normal level of interaction.
Look at those controversial kids in yellow, in contrast,
these are kids who right off the bat.
Remember, they're initiating a lot of contact.
Remember, they stopped initiating contact, but still they're involved with others.
So they have a way of trying to start play with others and others do respond and
look how high they are.
They are kids that are always involved in the group.
They are always someone that others are trying to play with and
those populars too.
You can see, although they were not high initiating,
they quickly become the ones that everybody wants to play with the most and
you can see that they're just second to controversials.
But again, look at those rejected kids.
In blue, on the bottom, even though they were the ones trying to startup play with
everyone else, they actually are quite unsuccessful.
So right off the bat in weeks one and two, they're trying to play with everyone and
no one is playing with them back.
They are not spending a lot of time interacting with others and that remains.
They go up a little bit as do the average, but as they all get to know each other,
but you can see they still remain pretty pretty low.
Last, take a look at those shy, withdrawn kids.
As you'd expect, they probably are becoming shy and withdrawn,
because they are not interacting a lot with others.
In fact, they're the only ones to go down over time.
So they start off interacting and by the end,
they're just not spending a lot of time with the other kids at all.
This was really cool research, that gave us a great idea of what are the patterns
and behaviors that help us to understand which kids become popular, rejected,
neglected, controversial and average.
And when the investigators looked at the videotapes a little bit more,
they try to understand.
What is it that these kids are doing, even in just those first two hours.
That for some kids, it's working really really well, like the controversial kids.
Or it's working not well at all, like the rejected kids.
What they found were a couple of things.
First, the rejected kids compared to the controversials and the populars,
they don't seem to read the room well.
So in other words, when everyone's playing with blocks, they suggest coloring.
And when everyone's suggesting coloring,
they're suggesting doing something else entirely.
They are not thinking about ways of getting others involved that understands
the group norm, that really joins in with what people want to do.
The populars and contrasts are really good at that.
They read the room, they understand what's happening.
And if they want to move the room around a little bit, they start by joining with
a group activity and they slowly move them in their way.
And as we'll talk about in a second, think about this for adults.
How is it that people go into a meeting, let's say at work?
And they're able to influence the whole room verses others might sound like big
opinions, but no one wants to follow them at all.
So we'll come back to that in a minute.
The second thing that they realized that rejected kids did was they were just more
So in general, it was found that the rejected kids, they might see something
that would be confusing to them or they might not be able to get a toy they
wanted and they would become much more aggressive than everybody else.
Even the person they were fighting was not called as aggressive by everyone else,
as the rejected kids were.
They're the ones who started it.
They're the ones that seem to provoke aggressive types of interactions.