Nerds, rejoice! Kelly Wallace, writing for CNN, reports that a recent study shows that cool kids in middle school are more likely than their nerdy counterparts to have problems in adulthood.
The University of Virginia published a 10-year study in the Journal of Child Development following 184 kids from middle school through the age of 23. The kids involved in the study came from a mixture of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. As young adults, the “cool kids” were using 40% more alcohol and drugs in their adulthood and were 22% more likely to be running into troubles with the law than their not-so-cool classmates.
The study showed that in social competence, 24% of the cool gang rated lower than the uncool kids in their adult relationships. The leads in the survey called it the “high school reunion effect”.
“Long term, we call it the high school reunion effect,” said Joseph Allen, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, who led the study. “You see the person who was cool … did exciting things that were intimidating and seemed glamorous at the time and then five or 10 years later, they are working in a menial job and have poor relationships and such, and the other kid who was quiet and had good friends but didn’t really attract much attention and was a little intimidated is doing great.”
Diana Graber, co-founder of website Cyberwise believes the nerd theory is true because cool kids are trying so hard to be “popular” and their insecurity manifests in poor choices and unhealthy behaviors. It causes these children not to take school seriously, which can hurt their futures.
Dina Spector, writing for Business Insider, also quotes the lead author in the study:
“It appears that while so-called cool teens’ behavior might have been linked to early popularity, over time, these teens needed more and more extreme behaviors to try to appear cool.”
Teens who are popular only because they hang out with the “beautiful people” are usually not working on developing meaningful relationships. This works to their detriment when they become adults. The study was small, however, including only one middle school in the southeastern US.
This paper does take a small step toward debunking earlier research that notes that “alpha” adolescents have a head start in their adult lives. Rachel Raczka, of Boston.Com, quotes Alexandra Robbins, who wrote Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth, in a Yahoo! interview, as saying:
“When you are in the popular crowd you are more likely to be conformist, you are more likely to hide aspects of your identity in order to fit into the crowd, you are more likely to be involved in relational aggression, you are more likely to have goals of social dominance rather than forming actual true friendships. You are more likely to let other people pressure you into doing things. None of those things is admirable or useful as adults.”