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The Path to Popularity

What makes someone popular? And how can you ramp up your own popularity?

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Pop Quiz:
  1. Who were the popular kids back when you were in school?
  2. What was the name of your seventh-grade history teacher?

If you’re like most people, you could immediately reel off the names in answer to the first question, but probably needed a few minutes for the second question, if you even remembered the answer at all.

We all know that popularity — what’s generally referred to as being liked, admired, or supported by a large number of people — is hugely important in a typical teenager’s life. But we also assume that once high school’s done, the childhood popularity we experienced or craved will no longer matter.

But according to Professor Mitch Prinstein, one of America’s leading psychologists of popularity — yes, there really is such a thing! — the popularity a person experienced (or didn’t) in childhood continues to have an impact for the rest of the person’s life. If that’s the case, then the science behind what makes a person popular is certainly worth exploring.

Type Matters

You may have come across people who are popular and wondered what made them so, when you find them to be aloof or even mean. You’re on to something there. In his book Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World (Viking, 2017), Prinstein explains there are two types of popularity: status-based and likeability-based.

When someone is popular because of status — meaning money, “coolness,” dominance, power, or influence — we’ll often find that the very people who want to be around him might not even like him.

The other type of popularity is more positive — when a person is plain old nice, everyone likes him and wants to spend time with him.

Mrs. Tziporah Lieff, a popular high school mechaneches at Bais Yaakov of Detroit, says she gets to see how popularity evolves over those crucial years as her students mature. “In the ninth grade, very often popularity will be based on external qualities. By the 12th grade, many times the girls have become disinterested in a ‘popular’ girl who is self-centered and intimidating. Girls who are easygoing, exhibit good middos, and are genuinely nice are the ones who are more popular.”

Popular Characteristics

According to Bernardo Carducci, Ph.D., and co-author of Shyness: A Bold New Approach (Harper Perennial, 2000), popular people may be very different from each other, but they have similar sociable habits. He says they’re usually focused on others, have good conversational skills, actively socialize, appear approachable, and have good social graces.

Chaya, a young photographer who recently relocated to Lakewood, says it’s her high energy and willingness to make an effort to keep in touch that makes her so well known and liked. “I just moved back home, but I’m reaching out to every person I know, from camp friends and seminary roommates to distant relatives, everyone, asking their opinions and advice,” she says.

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