Even Science Agrees, High School Popularity Affects The Rest Of Your Life

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Mean girls for life.

A lot of us were not our best in high school. And, if you were a nerd like me, you probably lived with your parents telling you over and over that things would get better once graduation came along— that it when you grew up, what happened in high school just wouldn't matter.

Well, sorry to break it to you, but it turns out Mom and Dad may have been lying to us. What happens in high school does have an affect on us in later life— and in some cases, a big one.

According to Mitch Prinstein, author of POPULAR: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World, our experiences in high school do a lot more than shape us— they actually help to literally shape our brains. Seriously. You've probably heard that a teenager's brain is still forming, right?

Well, then it makes sense that what is happening while they're still forming will shape what happens. And the results can be pretty long lasting. So, for better or for worse, issues like how popular we were in high school can stick with us in a very real way. Scary, right?

Here's what Prinstein found, but you might not like what you hear.


"It's during adolescence—or at the start of puberty, to be more precise—that our brains develop more dramatically than at any other point in our lives after the age of one, evolving from the way that children think (spontaneously, in the moment, and without self-consciousness) to the way adults do (more ruminative, autobiographical, and attuned to others' perceptions of us)," Prinstein explains. "The experiences we have in those critical years have the potential to affect the brain we will live with for the rest of our lives, which gives our teenage experiences with popularity such immense power."

Think about how quickly you say ‘I'm sorry' if you bump into someone— or even if someone bumps into you and you've done nothing wrong. Prinstein refers to this automatic "social information processing", which informs these kinds of behaviors. We learn to nod when someone walks by us— but it may be a different sort of response depending on whether we're popular or unpopular. But they are almost immediate responses, things we do without thinking or really making a decision.

Whatever we become conditioned to do during high school we take with us into adulthood— so we still have the immediate responses of a cool kid, a bully, a nerd, or whatever we were in high school. Because of our learned behavior, we never really shake that role.

Good news if you were popular— you'll probably come across and cool, calm, and confident for the rest of your life. But for the rest of us, it can mean deferring, apologizing, and generally acting submissive. No matter how successful you become or what you do after high school, we still have a little bit of who we were with us. And that can affect our lives in a big way.

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