Couch Talk: A Clique Label in Motion Tends to Stay in Motion
Sir Isaac Newton stated in 1687, “Everybody persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.” In other words, an object that is at rest will stay at rest unless an outside force acts on it. Newton was referring to the velocity and mechanics of a physical object, although he did not apply this law to social dynamics, I see a correlation between this edict and the dynamics of assigned group labels. Research shows that a person who accepts a label given to them in high school tends to continue to accept that same label for themselves their entire life. In Newtonian terms, a high school label tends to remain accepted unless it is actively renounced or discarded by that person.
In high school, we choose or are assigned a label from jock to princess to geek. Some try to maintain that label for the rest of their lives, but others cannot wait to escape it. It turns out there is some validity to the yearbook predictions. The students who were labeled as the nerds and the student government officers tended to be ambitious and successful as adults. The outcasts and dropouts tended to be more depressed, the jocks were healthier and in better shape and the kids who drank and smoke continued to do so.
Pamela Herd is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and co-director of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study — the largest and longest-running research investigation on life after high school, tracing over 10,000 participants for over 50 years. The study began when the individuals were seniors in high school and followed them throughout their lives.
The results showed that high peer-rated crowd status was associated with higher self-esteem and more magnetism toward crowd affiliation and vice versa. The student involved in extra-curricular activities in high school was more likely to be involved in community service and social causes as adults. And the more friends a person had in high school the more money they made in adulthood — this effect was called the popularity premium. High school students who scored high on tests and earned high grades were found to excel in college, and jocks (both male and female) were more likely to be in better health, make more money and enter high-skill professions.
Humans have a tendency to want to classify, rank and order in a hierarchical manner. High school students, as well as people of all ages, create labels to help separate and arrange people into groups or cliques. It seems these high school labels are used to make assumptions and judgments about people so others can decide whether to aspire to be like them, ignore them or try to date them. There are various factors that affect a person’s status in a group. The factors can range from the extracurricular activities one is involved in to some as trivial as where someone sits in the cafeteria or what brand of clothing they wear.
Cliques can have positive effects on self-confidence, and can help kids feel a sense of support, identification and belonging, which is essential to adolescent development. The downside of cliques is that they can be unreceptive to outsiders and in some cases aggressive to outcasts. Mostly, though, cliques are complex social dynamics that contain a combination of positive and negative characteristics.
There are, of course, ample opportunities to rise above one’s label or fall below the level to which they are capable, given their genetic disposition and surroundings. As research suggests, often times the label you are given in high school is the label you will have for life, unless one does something to change it. To refer back to Newton’s aforementioned law, if one does not redirect the force, or in this case, the label, then that label will continue to manifest itself in one’s life.