Around Campus

An evening with the author: Prinstein talks “Popular” with new students

Mitch Prinstein, author of the Carolina Summer Reading Program selection, spoke to incoming students about the subject of his latest book: popularity

Prinstein speaks to students
Summer Reading Lecture with the author of Popular, Mitch Prinstein held at Memorial Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill August 20, 2018. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

If you’ve ever wanted to know how popular you may be, Carolina psychology professor Mitch Prinstein can tell you. He wrote the book on it.

His book, “Popular: Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Cares Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships,” examines how our popularity affects success, relationships and happiness — and why likability isn’t the same thing as status.

“People are going to care about status,” said Prinstein, the John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience. “It’s been happening for 60,000 years… [but] what likable people do so incredibly well is they’re quiet, they listen, they read others, they understand the norms and they have a way of tweaking those norms in ways that make other people feel respected and heard.”

Prinstein, whose book was selected for the Carolina Summer Reading Program, discussed his research with students, faculty and staff at Memorial Hall on Aug. 21. The lecture, sponsored by Student Affairs and the Office of Undergraduate Education, commemorated the 20th anniversary of the reading program.

The first-year and transfer students who were encouraged to read the book as part of the annual reading program participated in small-group discussions earlier in the day.

Talking to a larger crowd in Memorial Hall, Prinstein’s lecture offered insights into how popularity plays out in college life. The discussion also provided students the opportunity to reflect on their social interactions and how to create meaningful relationships at Carolina.

Prinstein offered advice to the more than 80 percent of incoming students who hope college will provide a fresh start for their social reputations, encouraging them to build rapport with their peers through active listening.

“The students who take this college reset button and succeed the most are the ones who are quiet,” he said. “They listen, they interact with people a few at a time and they ask questions. They don’t just wait for their turn to say something. They let you know that your opinion matters… Those are the interactions that are most likely to lead to meaningful friendships.”

As incoming students begin a new chapter at UNC-Chapel Hill, Prinstein encouraged them to approach their relationships with a focus on likability over status and to build relationships offline — not just on social media.

“It’s unfortunate that the world has turned us away from relationships, connections, caring, valuing one another, listening to one another, and getting to know one another as human beings and not as numeric tallies [online],” he said. “Nothing is more important than the person you’re talking to.”