Science shows how high school popularity can affect the rest of your life

Most people can usually remember who the “popular kids” were in their high school. We can picture their faces clearly and recall random stories about them. Psychological science tells us that the high school popularity experience affected our growth into adulthood, thus enabling those feelings and memories surrounding our popular peers to stay fresh and feel recent.

According to Mitch Prinstein, author of POPULAR: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World, our brains were literally molded by teenage popularity. He explains that when we begin puberty, our brains go through their most dramatic development stage.

Puberty is when we begin to think less like children and more like adults, becoming acutely aware of what others think about us.

“The experiences we have in those critical years have the potential to affect the brain we will live with for the rest of our lives, which gives our teenage experiences with popularity such immense power,” Prinstein wrote.

The memories we make from adolescent experiences form prejudices in what we see, think, and do. Prinstein says that psychologists call this “social information processing.” It’s the idea that our reactions to social situations are actually automatic decisions that happen within milliseconds of the interaction.

Prinstein uses the example of saying “I’m sorry” when someone bumps into you even though you’re not at fault.

The automatic, unplanned reactions are a result of our past experiences during our developmental adolescent phase. In the past, we figured out what worked for us to end a social interaction successfully, so our brain recycles that knowledge, turning it into an automatic response to use order to “survive.”

Most of the automatic responses we use on a daily basis were formed while navigating the halls and popularity metrics of high school.

All this means your popularity status in high school affected the way you interacted with peers back then, and it directly affects how you behave in social interactions today. That status in the high school hierarchy determined if you became an “I’m sorry” or a “Watch where you’re going” kind of person.

As interesting as this may be, don’t think your entire life depends on your experience of popularity in high school. You still have full control over who you are and the decisions you make in life.

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