On social media, the most popular people are called influencers, and while this word is new, it highlights an interesting long-standing human tendency—we copy popular people. But when in development do we start to have an understanding of what it means to be popular? In this project from DIBS Lab, we explored this question.
Children between the ages of 5 and 10 years old were introduced to two characters, one whom the researcher described as a popular kid, and the other a fast runner. The researcher asked the participants to match traits to one of the characters, including social influence (“who do other kids copy more?”, our main trait of interest), as well as other traits like intelligence, and niceness.
We found that children associate popularity with social influence, but they did not think the popular kid or the fast runner was necessarily nicer or smarter. These results suggest that even young children recognize the striking influential power of popular kids and that they think this trait is more fundamental to being popular than being kind or smart.