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Popular - A Conversation with Author Mitch Prinstein

The Power of Likability in A Status-Obsessed World, and Strategies for Dealing With It

 
Mitch Prinstein, Ph.D. is board certified in clinical child and adolescent psychology, and serves as the John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, and the Director of Clinical Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - TotalPicture interviewMitch Prinstein

"This book is like Mean Girls meets Malcolm Gladwell. It is thought provoking and fun. Definitely would recommend!" Amazon review.

Mitch Prinstein, Ph.D. is board certified in clinical child and adolescent psychology, and serves as the John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, and the Director of Clinical Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His book, Popular, examines how our popularity affects our success, our relationships, and our happiness-and why we don't always want to be the most popular.

Welcome to a Leadership Channel Podcast on TotalPicture, I'm you host Peter Clayton. Joining me today is the author of Popular, The Power of Likability in A Status-Obsessed World. Mitch Prinstein.

No matter how old you are, there's a good chance that the word "popular" immediately transports you back to your teenage years. Most of us can easily recall the adolescent social cliques, the high school pecking order, and which of our peers stood out as the most or the least popular teens we knew. Even as adults we all still remember exactly where we stood in the high school social hierarchy, and the powerful emotions associated with our status persist decades later. This may be for good reason.

 

Popular examines why popularity plays such a key role in our development and, ultimately, how it still influences our happiness and success today. In many ways-some even beyond our conscious awareness-those old dynamics of our youth continue to play out in every business meeting, every social gathering, in our personal relationships, and even how we raise our children. Our popularity even affects our DNA, our health, and our mortality in fascinating ways we never previously realized. More than childhood intelligence, family background, or prior psychological issues, research indicates that it's how popular we were in our early years that predicts how successful and how happy we grow up to be.

But it's not always the conventionally popular people who fare the best, for the simple reason that there is more than one type of popularity-and many of us still long for the wrong one. As children, we strive to be likable, which can offer real benefits not only on the playground but throughout our lives. In adolescence, though, a new form of popularity emerges, and we suddenly begin to care about status, power, influence, and notoriety-research indicates that this type of popularity hurts us more than we realize.

Realistically, we can't ignore our natural human social impulses to be included and well-regarded by others, but we can learn how to manage those impulses in beneficial and gratifying ways. Popular relies on the latest research in psychology and neuroscience to help us make the wisest choices for ourselves and for our children, so we may all pursue more meaningful, satisfying, and rewarding relationships.

TALKING POINTS:

Mitch, perhaps we could begin by having you explain to me why my daughters enjoy watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

In the Introduction to Popular, you write that you hope the book will help readers in "at least five ways." Could you share those with the audience?

Following up on this, you challenge the meaning of popularity. Based on two types of "popularity" - one that's related to popularity, and one that measures status. Can you expand on this concept?

I'd like you to delve into the scientific or biological basis for popularity. At what age is it developed and how does it change in our teenage years and beyond?

You grew up in Old Bethpage New York, and tell us that from a very young age you've been a 'psychology nerd' what drew you into this field?

When I received your book, I took a picture of the cover and posted it on Facebook, with a couple data points from the press kit: "More than childhood intelligence, family background, or prior psychological issues, research indicates that it's how popular we were in our early years that predicts how successful and how happy we grow up to be." And, "Being unpopular predicts mortality rates. the only risk factor comparable to unpopularity as a health hazard is smoking." You write that Popularity can even change our DNA. As you might expect, I got quite a reaction from my Facebook friends. So I'm looking forward to delving into these rather startling facts.

On the topic of Facebook, a study released by Pew last year reveled that 44 percent of Americans get their news from Facebook, which has become a primary carrier of fake news. I find this statistic frightening, do you?

Does the type of popularity we experience in our youth remain constant for the rest of our lives?

The winner of the 2017 ugly dog contest was just announced. A mastiff that really is about the ugliest animal I've ever seen. I showed the picture to my 14 year-old daughter who responded - oh she's so cute!" How does attractiveness play into popularity?

I clearly remember the social dynamics when I was in junior high and high school, it was stressful then, without iPhones, the Internet and social media -- the pressure to be popular must be 10x more stressful for our children today. Can you share some of your research with us? Especially as it relates to social media.

As parents, how can we help our children cope with the constant stream of social media?

I'm curious about your use of social media. In your book you admit the allure of Facebook and "likes."

I think most everyone listening to this has heard about the 17 year-old girl who was convicted of encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself via text messages. To me, this tragedy illustrates the tremendous pressure kids are subjected to in the era of IM, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram -- the immediacy of our world leaves no time for thought or reflection. Would you agree?

A large number of my listeners work in HR, talent acquisition and recruiting. In what ways could your research be a benefit to them? Perhaps Billy's story would be instructive.

I'd like you to riff on a 15 year-old girl you call Alexandra, the most popular girl in her school but also the most despised by about 65 percent of the students. How can someone be popular when they are not even liked? (And I guess you could apply the Alexandra principle to our current president.)

One of the Amazon reviewers wrote "This book is like Mean Girls meets Malcolm Gladwell." Alexandra reminded me about a movie that premiered in 1988 called Heathers - staring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater which has become somewhat of a cult classic - I kept thinking about how much more insidious Heather would have been armed with a smartphone.

A couple of ah-ha moments....

Speaking about the '80's - it was 1980 when CNN launched the 24 hour network - what impact did that have?

In the US high status was associated with those who were highly aggressive?

But in China, it's the exact opposite and there is no Mandarin word for popularity?

2000 was the year that changed everything. Can you explain how Hot or Not disrupted the internet?

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.

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