The right kind of popularity

Mitch Prinstein, the John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Carolina, looks at why some people are popular, why others struggle and “what you can do to make sure you have the kind of popularity that predicts the most fulfilling and longest life possible.”

Two different types of popularity exist, according to Carolina professor Mitch Prinstein, and being cool is not always a good predictor of future success.

Prinstein explains the differences between the desirable kind of popularity called likability and the kind called status in his book, “Popular: Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Cares Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships.”

“Popular” is the 2018 summer reading book for Carolina’s 5,095 incoming students. The students will discuss the book in small groups on Aug. 20. Later that day, Prinstein will discuss his research at 6 p.m. in Memorial Hall.

In “Popular,” Prinstein, the John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Carolina, looks at why some people are popular, why others struggle and “what you can do to make sure you have the kind of popularity that predicts the most fulfilling and longest life possible.”

When thinking about popularity, Prinstein says that some people we call popular are those who are highly likable. “We like spending time with them, we trust them, they make us feel good and make us feel included. But that’s very different than the kind of popularity we think about immediately, which is often that image of who is cool, influential and powerful,” he says.

Prinstein says that the two kinds of popularity lead to opposite outcomes in life. He suggests the following for teens and adults to consider:

  • For kids, popularity is about being likable, and it comes from making others feel valued, included and happy. That’s important because whether someone is 8 or 80, being likable is a remarkably powerful way to increase his or her chances for a happy marriage, well-adjusted kids and a successful career.
  • Likeability is not the kind of popularity that many people remember from high school. Teenagers often crave status, which is all about power, dominance, influence and being known by as many people as possible. Status, however, isn’t always a good thing. Status is related to long-term problems with depression, anxiety, substance use and relationships.
  • For three decades, society has pushed people to care about status, not likability. Gaining “followers” and “likes” is a measure of status. Be careful with social media; maybe take a smartphone holiday and hang out with friends instead, which is a great way to become more likable and reduce stress.

It’s human nature for people to care about what others think about them, Prinstein says. He suggests that people be mindful of their own actions. “Think about a typical day and ask yourself – how do you spend your time and energy? By doing what you can to become more likable? Or by pursuing status?”