[GOOD QUESTION] What factors make someone popular?

Popularity: some people enter high school with the goal of climbing to the very top of the social ladder, while others sit and wonder at the ladder. Why does social hierarchy exist? Why would it matter to be popular anyway?

Junior Addy Eby said, “I think the term popular is outdated and too restrictive for the way such a small community like SPA actually operates. If popular implies being known by a lot of people, that doesn’t really apply because… most people know everyone in their own grade and the grade above.”

The school does a lot to discourage popularity as a contest: there is no Homecoming king and queen and now Snow Week Royalty. But that doesn’t mean that social groups aren’t central to how people perceive and relate to each other in the building.

A recent research study by Dara Greenwood, a professor in the Psychology department at Vassar, showed that it is human nature to want to be accepted by peers: “The need to belong, or to feel positively and consistently connected to others, has been conceptualized as a fundamental human need,” she wrote.

While people are driven to feel a sense of belonging, teens can perceive this in different ways.
Sophomore Nora Schaughnessy said, “I stand out from crowds due to my race in a privileged school with barely any brown students. I know many people and people know me, but I don’t qualify many of the people I know as my friends. I don’t like the term ‘popularity’ because… it [feels like] a middle school term.”

Popularity can be a complicated term. Junior Riley Erben is generally well known by the majority of her peers. While Erben has a tight social circle, she doesn’t judge her own social status. “I don’t think I am in the right position to say if I’m popular or not,” she said. “I have friends that I am really close with and for me, that is more important than popularity.”

Sophomore Baasit Mahmood agrees with Erben about the importance of close friends: “I have known most of my current friends since the lower school. These connections have been built over time through common interests.”

He added that “There’s an element of comfort that I feel like I can talk to them whenever I need to and that’s ultimately the most important part of a friendship.”

So is popularity a key part of success? Of happiness? According to a study conducted at the University of Virginia, when students focused on “gaining or maintaining their peer affiliation preference rather than focusing on forming stronger close friendships,” they did not benefit in the long term. These relationships had little influence on their future excellence in both their social and academic lives.

Senior Dante Gilbert wouldn’t say he is popular, but he also emphasizes the importance of spending time with close friends. “Being around my friends definitely improves my mood…We just like to hang out, watch movies, go on walks in the park, cook, play games, and other stuff like that.”

According to an article by the Mayo Clinic staff, strong friendships have many benefits. “Good friends are good for your health. Friends can help you celebrate good times and provide support during bad times. Friends prevent isolation and loneliness and give you a chance to offer needed companionship, too,” they said.

So what exactly makes a person popular? If both more popular and less popular people emphasize the importance of close friendships, what exactly is the relevance of social status?

For sophomore Baasit Mahmood, the answer is in the day to day: “I think popularity depends on who someone hangs out with… there are many different friend groups; however, it is pretty obvious who the popular kids are,” he said.