How to Be Popular?

If I asked you, “what makes someone popular,” I bet you would already know the answer. Rosalind Wiseman has asked hundreds of students this question and discovered that nearly everyone already knows. To be popular, girls and boys need the following:

Girls must be: Boys must be:
  • Pretty,
  • Outgoing,
  • Have Money,
  • Athletic,
  • Have attractive guy friends,
  • Etc.
  • Strong,
  • Tough,
  • Athletic,
  • Handsome,
  • Have attractive girlfriends,
  • Etc.

How to be popular_image 1The science that explains why these things make someone popular is simple. The qualities listed above make someone attractive and when someone is attractive they benefit from “Input of Energy” which can be thought of as a certain “special attention.” The more attractive you are, the more Input of Energy you get as shown in the picture. Input of Energy is what makes someone popular.

What is the mystery if everyone already knows the answer? Why do websites like WikiHow and books like How to Be Popular keep giving the same advice that obviously doesn’t work? The reason is because being well liked and being popular ARE NOT the same thing.

How not to be well liked

A .gif showing Gretchen falling from a stage proving that being popular and being well liked are not the same thing.

This is nicely demonstrated in the movie Mean Girls. It shows the very popular Gretchen Wieners falling from a stage because no one actually likes her. Websites such as WikiHow get “popularity” confused with “liking.”

If you want to be well liked you need to:

Girls & Boys must:
  • Be kind,
  • Help friends,
  • Be trustworthy,
  • Share,
  • Be friendly,
  • Etc…

Being really well liked will not make you popular. The WikiHow article entitled “How to Be Popular” should really be titled, “How to Be Well Liked.

People often think that the feelings of liking and attraction are the same but they are not. The brain chemistry that creates liking is different from the brain chemistry that creates attraction. If you want to learn more about this, check out the pioneering work of scientist Kent C. Berridge and the Incentive Salience Model.   How to be popular_Liking vs attraction

Because being liked and being popular are not the same thing, all students can be drawn onto the graph shown below. There are eight typical students on this graph. You can probably recognize most of them.

How to be popular_Image 2

Figure 2.5 from the book, Popularity Explained. There are three axes: liking, disliking, and popularity.

So what’s the moral of the story? If you want to be popular, you must be those things listed in the first table. If you want to be well liked, you must do those things in the second table. Don’t get the two confused. It’s possible to be both (or neither) but being popular doesn’t cause you to be well liked and vice versa.

Being popular ≠ being well liked

 Being well liked ≠ being popular

Luckily, real life is a little more complicated and not so brutally simplistic. However, this article is enough to answer why there is so much confused and hopeless advice in books and on the internet.

If you want to learn more, the book Popularity Explained, is posted online and all of the research is posted here.

Feel free to comment and criticize below.

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