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Study claims being ‘cool’ in youth predicts social inadequacy

Actor Robert Downey Jr. speaks onstage during Nickelodeon's 27th Annual Kids' Choice Awards held at USC Galen Center on March 29, 2014, in Los Angeles, California.
Actor Robert Downey Jr. speaks onstage during Nickelodeon's 27th Annual Kids' Choice Awards held at USC Galen Center on March 29, 2014, in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Teens that attempt to appear cool by participating in activities that are dangerous and inappropriate for their age in an effort to be popular suffer from more social inadequacy in their early twenties. This is the conclusion drawn from a study conducted by Joseph P. Allen, Hugh P. Kelly Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, and colleagues. The research was reported in the June 12, 2014, edition of the journal Child Development.

The study followed 184 people from the age of 13 to the age of 23. The study population was racially and ethnically diverse. The study population was abstracted from urban and suburban residents of the Southeastern United States. This is the first study that has tracked behaviors associated with being “cool” for a long period of time. The information on behavior and life changes came from the participants, peers of the participants, the participant’s parents, and public records.

Popularity and considering oneself to be cool as well as the conclusion by one’s peers that a person is cool at age 13 was determined by physical attractiveness and the association of a given individual with physically attractive people. Acts of delinquency including theft, taking drugs, and drinking alcohol at an early age were also associated with the perception of being cool by the individual and their peers. Parents were not inclined to accept these behaviors as cool.

When the participants in the study reached the age of 23 the perception of their peers had radically changed. The once “cool” kids were regarded as being less competent in managing social relationships than the kids that were never considered “cool”. The formerly “cool” kids were also more likely to have drug and alcohol problems and have been caught participating in illegal activities. The majority of “cool” kids felt the need to exhibit more extreme behaviors over time in order to maintain their perceptions of themselves as being “cool”.

The idea is that emulating what is presented as “cool” in music, television, and media produces people with poor social skills. One would find that the majority of people in the entertainment industries are not actually very “cool” despite the promotion of an appearance of lifestyle that is “cool”. The richest and most powerful people in the world are actually pretty much nerds.