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Adolescents’ social acceptance and popularity

March 18, 2013

I find the studies of adolescence really interesting – and I like thinking how you might take such theorising and use it on a fictional text…. For example, in their “study of the association between early adolescents’ social status and their social perceptions both in the peer group as a whole and within peer dyads,” (p.482) Daryaneh Badaly, David Schwartz, and Andrea Hopmeyer Gorman explain:

“Previous investigators have identified two partially distinct dimensions of social status: social acceptance and popularity (Cillessen & Rose, 2005). Social acceptance is a marker of likeability and peer regard and is generally associated with positive behavioral features and few negative behavioral attributes. Early adolescents who are well accepted tend to display prosocial behaviors, such as cooperating and sharing with others; they also tend not to engage in aggression or be the frequent victims of bullying (LaFontana & Cillessen, 2002; Sandstrom & Cillessen, 2006). In contrast, popularity is an index of social prestige and visibility and is typically related [-p.483] to a mix of positive and negative behavioral attributes. Popular early adolescents are characterized by both prosocial and aggressive tendencies and are generally not withdrawn in social settings (LaFontana & Cillessen, 2002; Sandstrom & Cillessen, 2006). On a theoretical level, social acceptance and popularity may be viewed as closely related constructs. In fact, there are moderate correlations between these two dimensions of social status (Cillessen & Mayeux, 2004). Nonetheless, by early adolescence, being well accepted and being popular are not synonymous phenomena (LaFontana & Cillessen, 2002). Early adolescents who are popular are not necessarily well liked and may even be disliked by a substantial subset of their peers (Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1998). One explanation for this seemingly counterintuitive pattern is that the aggressive and manipulative strategies that some adolescents employ to achieve popularity can exact a social price. Even though peers may recognize popular early adolescents as prominent and socially skilled, they may also resent their mistreatment at the hands of these socially dominant youths and feel disdain for them as a result (Becker & Luthar, 2007). Popularity might also bring disliking by other members of high-status cliques and crowds, reflecting infighting and jockeying for social position (Pronk & Zimmer-Gembeck, 2010).” (pp.482-483)

“An unresolved set of issues relates to early adolescents’ own understanding of their social situations. Consider, for example, our description of popular, aggressive students who are widely disliked. Are these youths aware that their classmates often view them in negative terms? Do they understand that many peers actively dislike them? Similar issues may be raised with respect to well-accepted adolescents who are not popular. Do these youths realize that peers view them with high regard but do not see them as having an elevated position in the peer group ecology?
Questions regarding the social perceptions of high-status early adolescents are critical to consider as we seek to understand the behavioral strategies that these youths employ to reach their positions in the peer hierarchy. For instance, some popular adolescents may rely on aversive behaviors because they do not recognize the potential social costs. That is, they may be unaware that their tactics are not well evaluated by peers. An alternative hypothesis, and the one that we will endorse, is that popular youths are cognizant of their derogatory social reputations but are more concerned with the benefits conveyed by dominance and high visibility among peers.
There is some preliminary support for the suggestion that youths’ perceptions regarding their social status and behavioral reputations can shape their decisions of how to act in social situations. Both children and adults engage in more socially competent behavior with others when they believe that those individuals like them (Curtis & Miller, 1986; Rabiner & Coie, 1989). Moreover, popular adolescents who are aware of their popularity act more aggressively than their peers and become more aggressive over time (Mayeux & Cillessen, 2008).” (p.483)

Whereas well-accepted youths tend to believe that their peers like them and do not reject them (Bellmore & Cillessen, 2003; Mayeux & Cillessen, 2008), popular children and adolescents tend to accurately perceive that their peers see them as having a preeminent role in the peer group (Malloy, Albright, & Scarpati, 2007; Mayeux & Cillessen, 2008).
Less is known about adolescents’ understanding of their behavioral reputations. Youths display some awareness of their behavioral attributes (Cillessen, Jiang,West, & Laszkowski, 2005), but the available findings pertain to beliefs regarding actual traits rather than perceived reputations. Despite correlations between how individuals view themselves and how they think others see them (Kenny, 1994), the two realms of social perception may affect decision making differently.” (p.484)

They conclude that “…adolescents have a relatively sophisticated understanding of their status in the peer group. In addition, social acceptance is, for the most part, related to perceiving social reputations and dyadic relationships pertinent to forming and maintaining friendships whereas popularity is related to perceiving reputations and relationships relevant to gaining social power.” (p.497)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Daryaneh Badaly, David Schwartz, and Andrea Hopmeyer Gorman (2012) Social Status, Perceived Social Reputations, and Perceived Dyadic Relationships in Early Adolescence. Social Development, 21, 3, pp.482-500


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