Chpt. 6: Becoming Popular

This page is the page you are probably most interested in. It is all about how certain students become popular. By the end, you should understand where popularity comes from. Before I explain it though, I need to talk about what I call, “The Three Factor Model.” Also, unless you have read the Chapters that come before this, this chapter probably won’t make sense.


Popular/unpopular is the first line of the Student Map and the focus of this chapter.

The Three Factor Model

Do you remember the eight different categories of students that were discussed in Chapter 2, The Students Among Us? If you want to explain how certain students come to land on different parts of the Student Map, you always need to think about three things:

  1. Who they are.
  2. What they are.
  3. The situation they are in.

The picture below shows this. I like to call these three things “Factors:” Factor #1, Factor #2, and Factor #3.


The “Three Factor Model.”

You need to think about all three if you want to understand the people around you.

Factor #1: Who You Are (How You Treat Other People)

Factor #1 is all about how you treat other people. If you ask yourself, “Who am I?” what would you say? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? An aggressive person or a non-aggressive person? Who you are is all about your personality.

Factor #2: What You Are (How People Treat You)

How other people treat you is just as important as how you treat them. People treat you differently because of what you are. “What” you are is a combination of all the things that make you, you. The people around you think about everything when judging you. They think about the sports you play, what you look like, the clothes you wear, how much money you have, and everything else.

Let me give some examples. If you are a very smart, people are going to ask you for help with school work (In other words, you are smart, so they ask for help). If you are a large guy who is very strong, people wont start fights with you (In other words, you are large, so people are afraid). The opposite of both situations is also true. If you are dumb people wont ask you for help and if you are weak people wont be afraid of you. In both situations, what you are changes how people treat you. How people treat you is Factor #2.

Factor #3: The Situation (Where You Are and What You’re Doing)

Where you are and what you are doing (in other words, the situation), is very important. If you are very smart, you will probably be chosen first for the math team. But, just because you are smart doesn’t mean you are good at something like hockey. If you were on a hockey rink, being really good at math is not as important as how well you can skate. Being in the classroom or on the hockey rink is going to change how other people treat you.

The situation can also be important because sometimes it gets in the way. Imagine that you are in Classroom A and that all of your friends are in Classroom B. Even though you have a lot of friends, it makes no difference if you are stuck in Classroom A. When thinking about popularity, friendship, and different types of students, you always need to think about Factor #3, the situation. Where you are and what you are doing can make a big difference.

How Popular Students Become Popular

Now that you know about Factors #1, #2, and #3, I can explain how certain students become “popular”. To start the explanation, let’s first think about just one line of the Student Map. For now, focus on the line that says “popular/unpopular.”

The answer to how certain students become popular is actually very simple. After reading Chapter 3 and Chapter 4, you might have already guessed how it works. Popularity happens when everyone sends Input of Energy to two or three specific students. These students are, of course, the students at the top of the Hierarchy. Remember, Input of Energy happens as a result of attraction and that students at the top of the Hierarchy are attractive to many, many, people. As a result, students at the top receive a lot of input of Energy. These students become popular. Look at picture below. Is it starting to make sense?


Input of Energy flows up and causes the students at the top to be popular.

Let’s look at some examples. In the novel How to Be Popular, the main character is a girl named Stephanie Landry. In the novel she is in love with Mark Finley who is a tall and handsome football player. Throughout the novel, she Inputs Energy into their friendship because she is attracted to him. The following examples come from the book:

  • Page 25: Stephanie convinces herself that Mark is going to realize that they belong together. In her words, “He has to.” This is a good demonstration of obsessive thinking.
  • Page 26: Stephanie believes that Mark is a genuinely nice guy despite the fact they have never met. Also worth mentioning is the fact that she discovers otherwise by the end of the novel. This is a good demonstration of unfair thinking.
  • Page 48: Stephanie states that she would build an observatory, complete with a high powered telescope, for Mark. This is a good demonstration of “helping” behaviour.
  • Page 80: Stephanie notices Mark in the hallway and says “Hi Mark, hope you had a good summer.” This is a good demonstration of trying to get close and changing what she says and how she says it.
  • Page 96: Stephanie is consumed with joy when Mark smiles at her. Another demonstration of obsessive thinking.
  • Page 104: Stephanie makes a point of choosing a table close to Mark’s at lunch, a good demonstration of trying to get close.
  • Page 197: Stephanie “buys” Mark at a talent auction saying that she did it for her family’s business. A good demonstration of trying to get close and unfair thinking because she is lying to herself. She “bought him” for herself.

What is funny in the novel is that Stephanie often complains about how her school is run by popular students. What she doesn’t know is that people like Mark Finley are popular because of how students like her treat him. To say it different, it’s actually a little bit her fault that he’s popular!

Based on Stephanie’s description of Mark, we know that he is everything a girl could want. What Stephanie doesn’t realize is that this places Mark at the top of the Hierarchy of Attraction. This means that every girl in the school thinks about Mark in the same way. Other girls, like Stephanie, will always be Inputting Energy and so it is not a surprise that Mark becomes the most popular boy.

Let’s consider another example. Watch the 1947 Coronet educational film “Are You Popular?” Wally calls Caroline on the phone and invites her on a date for Saturday night. About a minute later a second boy, Jerry, also calls Caroline and invites her out as well. Like a nice girl, Caroline politely turns Jerry down.

This is exactly the same situation as with Mark Finley. Caroline is at the top of the Hierarchy and, as a result, every boy in her school wants to call her and invite her out. Because she gets so much Input of Energy sent to her, she will soon become popular.

If the examples of Stephanie/Mark and Wally/Caroline don’t convince you, perhaps an example from real life will. Here is a short story taken from Rosalind Wiseman’s book, Queen Bees and Wannabes:

Emily and Kristi are seventh graders and both are in love with Brett. Each spends considerable quality time with Brett, including sending him notes, writing his name on their notebooks, calling him after school for tortuously long, awkward conversations, hanging out after school to see if she can bump into him, and “accidentally” walking by when his team practice is over. When the competition for his affections becomes unbearable, they make a pact that both will stop liking him. Neither girl has any intention of keeping her word, but each also believes that the other will. Each is also convinced that she has the right to be angry with the other if she goes back on her word. Which is, of course, what happens. Both girls quietly do everything they can behind each other’s back to win Brett’s affection.

Things become much more complicated when they discover that no fewer than four other girls in their grade like Brett as well. Making matters worse, one of the girls, Liza, threatens to usurp Emily and Kristi’s position as the front contender for Brett’s affection. Emily and Kristi’s response is to go after Liza, assured that they’re in the right because (a) Liza knows they like him; (b) Liza is throwing herself at Brett; and (c) they staked their claim first. Within a day the grade is abuzz watching the drama unfold.

In this example, it is not difficult to identify who’s who. Brett is clearly the Mark Finley of his classroom and Emily and Kristi are like Stephanie and Lauren from the novel How to Be Popular. The Input of Energy is easy to spot:

  • Spending considerable quality time with Brett.
  • Sending him notes.
  • Writing his name on their notebooks.
  • Calling him after school.
  • Hanging out after school so as to bump into him.
  • “Accidentally” walking by when his team practice is over.
  • Lying about agreeing not to like him.
  • Working behind each other’s backs to win his affection.
  • Ganging up on Liza.

All of this energy is directed toward Brett by a total of at least six girls (Emily and Kristi plus the four others) and can only lead to one thing. In a very short time, the entire class will come to see Brett as the most popular boy.

It is worth saying one more time that attraction is not only something that happens in romantic relationships. Attraction and Input of Energy happens in friendships as well. How do you suppose the other boys treat people like Brett? With so many girls always trying to be close to him, being one of his friends is like winning a golden ticket to all of the most exciting events. Less attractive boys will swarm around Brett because they know that he is somehow special. With all the boys and all the girls constantly Inputting Energy [link to 1.3], Brett will become the most popular boy.

A New Definition of Popularity

The current definition of popularity is, “to be liked by many” but this is wrong. Being popular has nothing to do with being liked. Instead it has everything to do with being attractive (which, again, means so much more than beautiful!) A better definition of popularity is this:

Popular: adjective. Someone who attracts a lot of Input of Energy .

Popularity: noun. A social phenomenon that results when Input of Energy is preferentially directed towards a select few.

What do you think of when you think about what qualities make someone popular. For girls, the list probably looks like this:

  • Pretty
  • Confident
  • Cool guy friends
  • Thin
  • In control
  • Outwardly nice
  • Happy
  • Money
  • Popular
  • Athletic

For boys, the list probably looks like this:

  • Strong
  • In Control
  • Money
  • Car
  • Girls
  • Aggressive
  • Tough
  • Athletic
  • Confident
  • Funny

If popularity was about being well liked, these two lists would be a lot different.

Of course, you know now that being popular is not about being well liked. It is about being Attractive. This why every item on the two lists are things that make students attractive.

I know I have mentioned it many times but I want to say it again: more than just beautiful/handsome are on these two lists!! There are many things that make someone attractive. It is not just about what you look like!!!

Unpopular/Popular is Only 1/3 of the Story

If you look at the Student Map, you will notice that there are two more lines. Being liked or disliked by other people has nothing to do with popularity but it is still important. How much a person is liked or disliked changes what type of student they become. On the next page, I talk about why.


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