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Editor's Choice: 'Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World'

Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World by Mitch Prinstein; Viking, 273 pages, $36.

Mitch Prinstein has news for us and it’s not especially good. In life, “The enduring power of popularity can be traced to the fact that those same (childhood) dynamics are still a part of our daily lives.” The factors of popularity aren’t much different. As in the playground then, so at the office now. His own studies have revealed to him “adults who have memories of being popular in childhood may be the most likely to report their marriages are happier, their work relationships are stronger, and they believe they are flourishing as members of society. People who recall unpopular childhood experiences report just the opposite.”

But, needless to say, our professor has all manner of qualifications and elaborations on all this – the two types of popularity are likability and status. For instance, there is the popularity (status) which may be gained by being a “boorish bully” and that which may be attained as a “likable leader.”

During the election, for instance, Prinstein noted that “Donald Trump’s poll numbers” improved with “every insult he lobbed at a reporter or an opponent.” But, says Prinstein, “the use of aggression is short-sighted because while it may result in a temporary boost in status and offer a little jolt of social reward, it is not fulfilling the wishes that truly matter.” In the publicity to this book, our professor says the president’s “behavior suggests a preoccupation with status, in the form of TV ratings, inauguration crowds and superficial markers of prestige. I can think of no better example of how an insatiable appetite for popularity leads to perpetual dissatisfaction, incessant striving for respect and admiration and ultimately a sad hypersensitivity to critique. Status people sometimes find “their sudden rise in popularity becomes too much to deal with”; an “addiction to” popularity could develop, then the realization that one’s popularity and character are different, followed by loneliness and wishing to be somewhere else. Those who have attained status may yearn to be liked. Observe what he says where you live, work and go to school. On front pages, TV news broadcasts and social media websites.

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