The cult of popularity that reigns in high school can look quaint from a safe distance, like your 20th reunion. By then the social order may have turned over like an hourglass: teenagers who were socially invisible have emerged as colorful characters, confident, transformed. Others seem preserved in time, same as ever, while some former princes and queen bees are diminished or simply absent, now invisible themselves.
For years researchers focused much attention on those prominent teenagers, tracking their traits and behaviors. The studies found, to no one’s surprise, that social dominance in adolescence often involves an aggressive, selfish streak that may not play well outside the locker-lined corridors…
Yet high school students know in their gut that popularity is far more than a superficial, temporary competition, and in recent years psychologists have confirmed that intuition. The newer findings suggest that adolescents’ niche in school — their popularity, and how they understand and exploit it — offers important clues to their later psychological well-being.
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