New Research Says Cool Kids Don’t Turn into Cool Adults

Regina George? Totally socially incompetent as an adult.
Regina George? Totally socially incompetent as an adult. –AP

Despite research that notes exceptionally popular, attractive, otherwise alpha adolescents find themselves ahead in their adult lives, a new study published in Child Development says that might not actually be the case 100-percent of the time. The research led by University of Virginia psychology professor Joseph P. Allen found that teenage subjects who “tried to act cool in early adolescence’’ were found to have a “range of problems in early adulthood,’’ including drug use and criminal activities.

The study followed 184 13-year-old students of racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds at suburban and urban public schools in the southeastern United States over the course of ten years. The measure of “cool’’ was acquired after asking young subjects about their social, sexual, and romantic interactions, deviant/rebellious behavior, and their own interpretation of popularity among their peers. They then monitored the subjects’ social and professional relationships through the decade and found that “by 22, those once-cool teens were rated by their peers as being less competent in managing social relationships.’’


Allen said in the release:

“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, at least to a subgroup of other teens. So they became involved in more serious criminal behavior and alcohol and drug use as adolescence progressed. These previously cool teens appeared less competent—socially and otherwise—than their less cool peers by the time they reached young adulthood.’’

According to, the study revealed that their pool of so-called “cool kids’’ were “40% more drugs and alcohol than the ‘not so cool’ kids and were 22% more likely to be running into troubles with the law.’’ Additionally, the “cool kids’’ were not found to be “cool’’ adults, and were rated 24 percent lower on the social competence scale than their less-cool counterparts.

Allen’s study is reminiscent to research revealed in 2011, when reporter Alexandra Robbins released her book, “Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.’’ In an interview with Yahoo!, Robbins noted that “what makes people unpopular in the hallways of high school, mainly an unwillingness to conform, tends to translate into success as an adult.’’ On her research, Yahoo! noted:

Robbins followed seven self-described outsiders at public and private high schools for a year and concluded that what makes kids popular—conformity, aggression, visibility, and influence—won’t make them happy or successful after they graduate. She distinguishes between perceived popularity, when peers say someone is at the top of the social hierarchy, and actual popularity, when peers report actually liking someone. Her book focuses on the former, a state that Robbins says tends to evaporate outside of the high school gate.

In line with Allen’s research, Robbins told the website, “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.’’


h/t Science of Us

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