What We Discuss with Mitch Prinstein:
- How the role of popularity changes from childhood to adulthood.
- How much does physical attractiveness influence our popularity (and what can we do to overcome its effects if we’re not particularly gifted in the looks department)?
- How popularity affects our hormonal and neural responses — and even our DNA.
- The dangers of seeking status.
- How can we escape the popularity trap?
- And much more…
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When you think back to your formative years, you probably have a strong feeling about the people everyone in school considered “popular.” Maybe you were among them. Maybe you were envious of them from afar. Maybe you were ostracized by them. Maybe you forged a tentative alliance with them because your older sibling who graduated the year before was their leader. But what does it really mean to be popular?
On this episode, we peruse the phenomenon of popularity with Dr. Mitch Prinstein, chief science officer for the American Psychological Association and author of Popular: Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Cares Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships. Here, we discuss the two sides of popularity: status and likability. While likability fosters long-lasting success and satisfaction and should be encouraged from an early age, a focus on the false promises of status can lead to adverse consequences that last a lifetime. We also examine how popularity affects our hormonal and neural responses (and even our DNA), the role physical attractiveness plays in popularity (and what can we do to compensate for it if we’re not particularly gifted in the looks department), and how we can cultivate likability while keeping the dark urges of status-seeking at bay. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Miss one of our earlier shows with The 48 Laws of Power author Robert Greene? Catch up here with episode 117: What You Need to Know about the Laws of Human Nature!
Thanks, Mitch Prinstein!
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Resources from This Episode:
- Popular: Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Cares Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships
- Dr. Mitch Prinstein | The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Dr. Mitch Prinstein | American Psychological Association
- Dr. Mitch Prinstein | LinkedIn
- Dr. Mitch Prinstein | Twitter
- Mitch Prinstein: Does Our High School Popularity Affect Us Today? | TED Talk
- HOTorNOT: The Forgotten Website That Shaped the Internet | Mashable
- Cracking the Popularity Code | Scientific American
- Dave Chappelle’s Ja Rule Joke is Having a Very Meta Twitter Moment | Okayplayer
- Why Current Anti-Bullying Campaigns Will Be Unsuccessful, But Could Be Improved! | Psychology Today
- Who Is Andrew Tate, the Self-Styled ‘King of Toxic Masculinity’, Awaiting Trial in Romania? | Sky News
- The Emerging Field of Human Social Genomics | Clinical Psychological Science
- Peer Victimization, Cue Interpretation, and Internalizing Symptoms: Preliminary Concurrent and Longitudinal Findings for Children and Adolescents | Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
- Social Media and Teen Mental Health: 10 Things to Know | NPR
- APA Chief Scientist Outlines Potential Harms, Benefits of Social Media for Kids | American Psychological Association
- How Parents Can Help Kids Navigate Social Dynamics with Dr. Mitch Prinstein | The Grow Kinder Podcast
- ‘Payola Is Illegal’: Lawsuit Revives Pay-for-Play Accusations in Radio Industry | Rolling Stone
- Proud of Being a Hipster: One Bearded, Indie-Rock-Loving, Contrarian-Article-Writing Man’s Story | Slate
921: Mitch Prinstein | The Perks and Perils of Popularity
This transcript is yet untouched by human hands. Please proceed with caution as we sort through what the robots have given us. We appreciate your patience!
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Special thanks to Nissan and U. S. Bank for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show. Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:07] Mitch Prinstein: The very things that give us more status, being aggressive, being focused on, differentiating ourselves from others instead of connecting with others, they tend to erode our likability.
[00:00:18] Don't get sucked into that aggressive behavior that so frequently comes along with status.
[00:00:27] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. Our mission is to help you become a better informed, more critical thinker through long form conversations.
[00:00:43] With a variety of amazing folks, from spies to CEOs, athletes, authors, thinkers, performers, even the occasional former jihadi drug trafficker or astronaut, Emmy nominated comedian, you get the idea. And if you're new to the show, or you want to tell your friends about the show, I suggest our episode Starter Packs.
[00:00:58] These are collections of our favorite episodes on persuasion, negotiations, psychology and geopolitics, disinformation and cyberwarfare, crime and cults, and more, to help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show. Just visit jordanharbinger. com slash start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started today on the show popularity We cared about it in high school Our kids probably care about it and we all wish we never even had to think about it But is the chase for status something that we've evolved?
[00:01:25] Why did we evolve this? Is it important for kids these days? What about adults today? We're going to explore what popularity does to our brains as kids and even when we're grown why popularity is so different from likability And what modern media has done to make all of this even more complicated for our caveman brains.
[00:01:42] Here we go. Two nerds talking about popularity with Mitch Prinstein. Your wife made you answer my email while you were on vacation. And the reason that she did that is possibly due to some of the psychology that we're actually talking about in this episode, which I think is kind of meta. You know, I read the book and I was like, wait a minute.
[00:02:04] Did I get a prioritized answer because of popularity? I don't know. You did.
[00:02:09] Mitch Prinstein: You're popular. Well, thanks
[00:02:11] Jordan Harbinger: for coming on the show. I appreciate your time. It's funny because I read the book and I thought, Oh, I'm old. I don't care about this stuff anymore. But it did feel good that he told me that he answered my email while on vacation because his wife said it was important and he better answer it.
[00:02:25] And then I realized, Oh, we're all in this trap, or at least I'm still in this trap. And if I'm still in this trap. I wonder if we're all still in this trap. And then I read your book and, spoiler alert, we're all still stuck in this trap. I want to get to that in a minute, but I'd like to talk about how kids are popularity obsessed, even in an elementary school, because I have young kids.
[00:02:46] I'm dreading this for them. Because as I found out as an adult, even the popular kids felt like they weren't popular when they were little and it just sucks for everyone. Yeah,
[00:02:55] Mitch Prinstein: it absolutely does. We're kind of wired to care about this stuff. It's the only reason why we're here instead of the other species that were around 60, 000 years ago.
[00:03:04] Whether we want to admit it or not, whether we believe it or not, we are biologically primed to care what other people think about us. This is just a ubiquitous experience. It's
[00:03:14] Jordan Harbinger: bad news for the whole, I don't give a crap crowd of guys online.
[00:03:18] Mitch Prinstein: I mean, it's, it's important, right? It would be a bad world if we didn't care what anyone thought of us.
[00:03:23] So the question is, how are we really handling that? Are we obsessed? Are we fixated? Are we still living out our high school years or how we found that balance? I think that's the key.
[00:03:34] Jordan Harbinger: It sounds like even when we are so small that we don't see this stuff consciously at all. We're still hardwired for this stuff.
[00:03:41] The popular kids were always played with on the playground during the study that they ran here. They could cut in line for lunch, they could share other people's food and toys. And that sounds great, until you realize that there's this whole other subset of kids, possibly even a larger number of those kids, that are not privileged like that.
[00:03:59] And they find out the hard way because they're not allowed to play with somebody else's toys. They don't get to have the snack that the other kids are sharing. They don't get to cut in line for lunch and in fact are cut in front of and can't do anything about it. And maybe they play alone on the playground.
[00:04:13] Maybe not always, but a lot. And I know, just even reading that makes me sad. I don't know if I'm getting triggered because of my own... nerdy childhood, or if I'm sad for my future kids, or if I'm just sad because that's the state of affairs. Yeah, it is
[00:04:26] Mitch Prinstein: a really sad fact, but real fact of life, that our physical attractiveness plays into our popularity.
[00:04:32] So even as babies, you know, within the first months of life, we are being treated differently by parents, by other adults, by teachers, just based on that popularity, whatever it's based on. And by the time you're in kindergarten, There's tremendous socialization that's happening. It's making you a different human being based on whether you're popular or not, which is just remarkable to think about.
[00:04:56] You know, you're being shaped to have different chances, experiences, learning opportunities, totally based on how well liked
[00:05:03] Jordan Harbinger: you are. I don't want to keep overusing this and keep saying that's so sad, but it really is a harsh reality that there might be a kid that say, I don't know, has a scar or a birthmark on his face.
[00:05:14] Gets treated slightly different as a result, grows up, and the birthmark fades after time, or gets treated with a laser. What do I know? I don't know how to deal with those. And then, there's still that same person that is... traumatized, if that's even the right word, or at least had been molded in this totally different way that's completely out of their control and frankly, just unfair.
[00:05:35] And it lasts forever.
[00:05:37] Mitch Prinstein: It is sad if we think of this as unchangeable. Okay. But the fact is we're talking about it. And the reason why we need to be talking about this is because this is totally fixable. It's something we can all do something about as soon as we realize that these dynamics are happening.
[00:05:52] We know it at some level. You know that the one that everyone likes the most is more likely to get the job or the promotion. You know that that person is getting extra help or assistance on things. But we can be that person. We can all be that more likable person as long as we're talking about this. We recognize what's going on and we're focusing on the right kind of popularity.
[00:06:12] Jordan Harbinger: Popularity affects us through our whole lives. But even if we stop thinking about it, because I think people right now are going, it's fine. That doesn't bother me anymore. I'm not even worried about this. Again, I would agree with those people up until I read this book, but even bringing up the term popular, frankly, evoked some of the same emotions that we probably had in middle school or high school.
[00:06:32] And it's almost like this is embedded. In our soul, and I know you said it's changeable, but that doesn't mean that it no longer affects us, that it's not present anymore. I know a lot of these Silicon Valley guys, a lot of these super wealthy billionaire guys, as you might imagine, started off as a little bit geeky, and man, you can almost just see it manifest in the home they buy, or the boat they have, or the way that they talk, and you're just thinking, Inside that billionaire body, you've got a small wounded child that's just pissed off that he didn't go to prom or that Sheila made fun of you in seventh grade, and you just never let it go.
[00:07:06] And it's not pathetic. It sounds pathetic. It's just very human. It's totally
[00:07:10] Mitch Prinstein: human. That is what makes us human. We know how to interact with one another. We know how to work as a herd. So we're programmed to care about that stuff. And I agree. Interviewing people of every age, of every walk of life. I have yet to find the person that I say the word popularity to that isn't immediately transported back to 8th grade and they tell you about their experiences with all the emotion they had back in 8th grade.
[00:07:35] And one of the reasons why it's kind of interesting in the brain, what we find is that whenever you're experiencing something today, you're walking down the street, someone waves hello at you, You would think what parts of your brain are really activated there, what's influencing how you respond, how you feel.
[00:07:50] A lot more of your memories from high school are being used even in those little moments than you probably realize. Because what happened to us with those first experiences in popularity, it's like they provide a lens, like a filter. And we see the rest of our lives through that filter. So we are always experiencing things through the experience of what it was like when we were 13.
[00:08:16] And that's why you see that. That's why you see those people that still have that 13 year old
[00:08:19] Jordan Harbinger: inside of them. Yeah. In the book, you even remark that there's school and military performance versus popular versus not popular kids, popularity and marriages and work relationships and people who are or were.
[00:08:32] popular often go on to be more successful later in life, and those who are below average, unpopular, often go on to have higher risk of substance abuse issues, anxiety, injury, illness, suicide, and other ailments. So it's like, there are health costs, but I do wonder, is that you're either popular or you're not, or is it like there's The popular people, there's a giant middle range where it's like, you're neither more likely to be successful, more likely to be a drug addict.
[00:08:58] And then there's a bottom tier where the effects are concentrated. Or is it like, you're popular, you're going to do great. The rest of you, good luck out there.
[00:09:06] Mitch Prinstein: No, it's a whole range. In fact, there are different kinds of ways that we think about likeability and I'll walk you through it, but you're right.
[00:09:13] These are effects that research shows it has an effect 40 years later, even after controlling for things like IQ and socioeconomic status. This is the thing that we're not talking about as much as we should, but science shows it has a much bigger effect than we think. So, there's two different kinds of popularity.
[00:09:30] One is really the extent to which we're liked by others, and when we think about being liked by others or not, research actually shows there are five different categories. So, I'm going to tell you these five, you're going to immediately start thinking about which one you were in, right? So, there's the group of kids that are the really well liked, and there are very few people say that they're disliked.
[00:09:48] We call them accepted. You've got the reverse. A lot of people don't like them. Very few people like them. We call them rejected. Okay, those come out the way you would expect them to. But then you've got this group that people don't really notice, so they don't like them a lot, and they don't dislike them a lot.
[00:10:04] Those are neglected kids. They actually do pretty well because they're pretty good at adapting themselves from situation to situation. Then you've got these controversial kids as the fourth group. These are kids that a lot of kids like and a lot of them hate. So they're very visible. Everyone knows who these kids are.
[00:10:21] They're often class clowns. They're controversial. Now they grow up to have higher levels of the second form of popularity we'll probably talk about later. And then last but not least is the group of average. Average is about two thirds of the kids out there. And this is one place in life where you want to be average.
[00:10:37] Average is a really good place to be because you learn a little bit about being rejected and a little bit about being accepted. It's
[00:10:43] Jordan Harbinger: quite fascinating that there's some of the most popular kids in one category are hated by many other people in other categories. Yeah. And I know that in the book, that leads you to talk about likability versus status.
[00:10:55] And it sounds like those are different. Can you take us through
[00:10:57] Mitch Prinstein: that? Yeah, absolutely. If you stop anyone in high school or anyone who's been to high school and say popularity, They're not gonna think about likability who likes you the most or the least, and that's because that kind of popularity, the kind of we're all thinking about when you hear that word, that doesn't come on board until middle school and we refer to it as status.
[00:11:16] It's really the extent to which you're known to be powerful, influential. You have a lot of visibility, prestige, that's different. In fact, some of the people with the highest levels of status out there actually have the lowest levels of likability. So these are two totally different things. You only have likeability until you're about at puberty.
[00:11:38] And then suddenly you get the second form of popularity. Now, it used to be that status was a thing that lasted throughout high school. And then that was it. The world has changed a lot in the last 20 years or so. And now you can be a status seeker for the rest of your life. Has
[00:11:52] Jordan Harbinger: that changed or has it just become easier to do?
[00:11:54] Are you saying that, Hey, in the eighties popularity ended with high school or college? And now it's because of the internet, you can just stay in high school or college through the rest of your life in terms of status chasing, clout chasing. You
[00:12:05] Mitch Prinstein: could be chasing status for your whole life, but very few people got it.
[00:12:08] It wasn't until that website, Hot or Not, that started this whole new way of using the internet to say, wait a minute, we can pick who's famous. We can make ourselves famous. That led to reality TV, you know, remember the Lifestyles of Rich and Famous, like suddenly status for everyone became totally obtainable and accessible.
[00:12:28] And obviously now we're talking about social media, everything has radically changed. So you can live out that high school fantasy for your whole life right
[00:12:37] Jordan Harbinger: now. Speaking of reality TV. I'm so curious if reality TV and media, of course, it's having an effect on the status of people we see on TV. They get famous.
[00:12:45] Okay, fine. But what is reality TV done to those of us that watch? Good for nothing people get famous because their relationship is a total mess and we're literally gawking at them, right? How is it affecting me when I watch 90 Day Fiancé and I go, I'm so glad I'm not like that moron right there. This guy is the dumbest person I've ever seen in my life.
[00:13:06] I can't wait till the next episode because I do that and it's a guilty pleasure. What buttons is this pushing for me in terms of status and popularity?
[00:13:14] Mitch Prinstein: I think there's a couple of things going on there. When we are watching reality TV, we're becoming judges of other people's social behavior. Either literally the judges who have to vote and decide on the fate of these contestants, or we're just sitting in our living room and we're judging everything that we see everyone else doing.
[00:13:30] But that's creating a whole dialogue around what does it take to get power? And we didn't talk about that as much, you know, years ago. But now you sit there and you say, wow, they didn't go to the head of household's room. That's going to cost them later on. So we're narrating the social rules a little bit more out loud, and then we're seeing how our theories play out based on who gets voted in or not.
[00:13:50] The interesting thing to me is that reality TV is probably the symptom, not the cause. There's some research that says that all of this might have started going back even further to CNN, the first 24 hour news network. It changed the narrative style in the media. Suddenly, we didn't just learn the news in a five minute bullet at six o'clock.
[00:14:11] We had to hear 24 hour coverage of a story, and they used a journalistic technique of far more starting then of getting you invested more in the people that were experiencing the events. And for that reason, we suddenly had everyone out there becoming famous. Everyone got their 15 minutes, and that suddenly broke down the fourth wall.
[00:14:31] Wait a minute. I could be that famous person.
[00:14:34] Jordan Harbinger: I see. Yeah, this makes sense because they needed more news or more things to be considered news that definitely were not news. And so you end up with talking heads who aren't really journalists. They're just people who fight on TV and they're famous. And then you end up with the people who witnessed the event.
[00:14:51] And instead of just getting a random statement from a reporter, we've got this person who's like a citizen journalist or whatever now, and they're a correspondent and. Is there a part at which maybe we see ourselves as possibly worthy of media attention, just like reality TV folks? I mean, CNN aside, now we've evolved it to, Hey, do you do really inappropriate things in public because you have no shame?
[00:15:12] You could be famous! Instead of it being like, Oh, in high school, we all had to compete for status. Glad that's over. It's almost like a global competition now with Instagram, TikTok, etc. And celebrities, what they do and think now is considered news, which is awful, in my opinion. You know, Dave Chappelle has that viral bit, like, What does Ja Rule think about all this?
[00:15:31] In September 11th. Who the hell cares what Ja Rule thinks? It's a joke because what celebrities do and think is definitely not news. I mean, these are people who you would never ask. If they were not famous, you wouldn't care about their opinion. You wouldn't even want to be breathing the same air as them because they're wasting your oxygen.
[00:15:45] Mitch Prinstein: That's exactly right. This is how the world has changed. And it all has to do with popularity. It all has to do with status. It has to do with their changing perspective on status. People are now introduced with a number of their followers kind of as part of their bio. What does that mean? Why does that give them credibility rather than like any actual expert credentials or something like that?
[00:16:06] Jordan Harbinger: I have a job, by the way, I have no credentials, but I, I merely have a following, thank God. But yeah, for everyone else, it's terrible. For me, however, it's been
[00:16:15] Mitch Prinstein: a blessing. Like you said, what a celebrity says on an event that's not in their industry, right? Where they don't have expertise. That's just so different now.
[00:16:23] And if I ever thought that this was something that was happening right before our eyes, I don't have to look too much further than any magazine cover these days, especially in the last few years, that will tell you how to take photos of your dinner plate that will Instagram followers or... Teaching kids how to become an influencer as a career and how to get more likes on your feed.
[00:16:44] And it's really changed so dramatically. Even 20 years ago, we didn't have that tutorial to teach us how to get status. It was like, maybe you'll be famous. Maybe not. Go live the rest of your life like everyone else. Right. And see what
[00:16:56] Jordan Harbinger: shakes out. I know in high school, or even in middle school, there were tactics that you could do to gain status.
[00:17:02] Like, you could be bad and do bad things, or pull pranks. You could do things that were high visibility, like mouth off to a teacher, and stupid little stunts like that would get you status. I did one where I ordered pizza for the whole school, and it worked, but it got me in deep, you know what, with the police and my parents.
[00:17:18] Yeah. So was it worth it? No, that's because I had a decent home life. I think if I didn't, it would have been worth it. Or if my status were lower to begin with, and I really needed that to, say, stop relentless bullying, which I didn't, thankfully, then maybe the calculation would have been different. And I worry that dumb, small minded social math is now permeating society.
[00:17:41] Does that make sense at all? A
[00:17:42] Mitch Prinstein: hundred percent. And I think the things you're talking about are relatively innocuous, but the thing that we know from the scientific literature is that when you're talking about the two different kinds of popularity, now you're starting to talk about some strong differences because the first thing you can do to be the most disliked out there is to be aggressive.
[00:18:00] Aggression is a killer for your likability, but the thing you can do to increase your status. is also aggressive behavior. So think about someone out there with status who's kind of bullying others, making fun of others to show everyone how dominant they are, how much power they have to try and get even more status.
[00:18:17] This is really dangerous because the very thing that makes you disliked also can unfortunately make you have higher status. So now we've got a world where people are being bullies and aggressive or teaching kids how to do that. That's scary. Yeah,
[00:18:30] Jordan Harbinger: I don't really see this because I don't pay a lot of attention to it But for example, Andrew Tate is in the media a lot right now.
[00:18:36] I don't really see him bullying people particularly again I'm not paying close attention to it But his whole thing is aggressive, right? He's like, I'm dominant. I pointed at somebody and they shriveled away, and it's a superpower, and you know, money cars women, and it's really, it almost seems like a comedy bit.
[00:18:51] I'm still not convinced that it's not, but it's gotten him a ton of status, and that is really seemingly all that kind of matters to him right now, because he can monetize it. That's the thing. And you see this with other online personalities as well that are quite popular. I don't want to mention names because it gets political really fast when you go down that route.
[00:19:09] Sure. But I see this.
[00:19:10] Mitch Prinstein: And the thing is, it's addictive, right? So that's the other issue is that this status, it's very addictive. Once you get a little, you want more, whether it's in the form of social media addiction, whether it's in the ways that there's never enough. We did a lot of work looking at some of the literature with celebrities in the book as well and talking about the ways in which they now regret all the status that they have.
[00:19:30] Yeah. They can't trust anybody or like them for who they really are. This is a huge change for our entire culture and society because we didn't seek status in the way that we did even just 50 years ago. We worked together. We were a community. That's a big difference. Yeah,
[00:19:45] Jordan Harbinger: I think the, the community stuff having melted away a little bit in deference to larger society, that is probably part of it.
[00:19:53] I guess the question is, are our brains evolved to deal with status on a global scale? It makes sense that some people in a family or a tribe Have higher status, and maybe there's some low status people, they're still loved, they're still cared for, but maybe they're the butt of the jokes, right? But now you have society at large where there's no social consequence to making somebody's life over here a living hell and then deifying this other person who you'll never meet in your life.
[00:20:17] And I just don't know that our brains are evolved to deal with that. But again, I don't know if that's science or if that's just like bro science from podcasting.
[00:20:25] Mitch Prinstein: No, I think you're exactly right. So I'll tell you what our brains are developed for. They're developed to help us survive 60, 000 years ago, which sounds crazy because that's so long ago.
[00:20:36] But from the perspective of the evolution of the human brain, 60, 000 years is nothing, so they are designed to make sure that the minute we think we are losing our tribe, our herd, to give us huge alert signals and tell us that's a concern. And we see that today. And, you know, in my own research lab, we do simulated rejection experiences, and we can see in people's blood within 40 minutes that dormant DNA has been turned on or off based on what just happened in social, rejecting them in this mock way.
[00:21:08] It's incredibly powerful. And in the last 20 years or so, we've completely changed society and the brain is still playing catch up. So we've got a big mismatch now. We've got brains that want us to get huge dopamine hits from social connection, but we've now created the artificial sweetener of social connection.
[00:21:27] By this fixation on status, whether it's in social media or elsewhere. And that's a big concern. We are no longer living in the world that our brains are built
[00:21:36] Jordan Harbinger: for Why did we evolve to care about popularity? You mentioned it before but what is the caveman scenario here? I know we all know that like hey if you're ostracized from the tribe, it means you die because you're alone There's got to be more to it because being ostracized as being hated and marked for death.
[00:21:52] Okay, fine. So why isn't there just like a, Hey, you're not hated and marked for death. Why do we care about any status above that? So
[00:21:58] Mitch Prinstein: when our brains evolved, we absolutely needed to make sure that we survived by being in a herd. That's how we beat the Neanderthals and the other groups out there, right? Is that we were the only ones that were able to communicate and work together as a herd.
[00:22:14] And that did lead to our survival. What happened is that if you were kicked out of the herd, there was a greater risk of being mauled or killed. So we have this now inflammation response that really activates at the moment that we're rejected. And we can see that because our genes actually express themselves differently based on whether we've just been rejected or not.
[00:22:35] We have this incredible overlap between our social sensitivity and our actual physical pain sensitivity because we are built to think that our social lives are incredibly important for our survival. It's this remarkably powerful effect. How all this plays out, and anyone who's met an 11 year old will remember, That somewhere right around them, they start rolling their eyes to their parents and caring about nothing other than their peers.
[00:23:01] And the reason why is because it's at that time in our lives that we start developing a part of our brains that makes us really care about social signals and for it to feel really good. It's oxytocin and dopamine working together there. So we have that for the rest of our lives, that kind of push to connect with others and to make it feel good when we do.
[00:23:22] The difference is that when we're adults, we have a little bit more of an ability to stop ourselves from pursuing every impulse because the rest of our brain is fully developed as well. But at those young ages, that fixation on others, peers, and popularity, that all starts because of these biological issues that we are programmed to have, um, evolutionarily, and also at that point in our lives.
[00:23:43] Jordan Harbinger: mentioned DNA changes. Mm hmm. This is terrifying. Social rejection changes our DNA? That almost sounds... So bad that I hope you're wrong. What is going on here? What is rejection due to my genetic makeup? It's not
[00:23:56] Mitch Prinstein: changing what DNA you have, but it's changing what DNA is expressed, right? So you've got DNA that's dormant.
[00:24:02] No one's turned it on yet. And yeah, it is preparing you for being attacked by a woolly mammoth at any moment because that's what used to happen back then. So it makes your blood clot. It lowers your viral immunity. Imagine you are just through a pandemic. What's the way that we make sure we don't get a virus?
[00:24:19] Just keep yourself away from as many humans as possible. The minute that you are disconnected from the herd or you have social rejection, your viral immunity shuts down. And that's some of the DNA expressing itself. That's changing. So yeah, it's not science fiction. It's really happening.
[00:24:35] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man. So we're evolved in theory, right?
[00:24:38] To be especially sensitive. So people who are alone, I guess they don't need a stronger immune system because they're not interacting with anyone else, so there's no one to infect them. Is that the idea?
[00:24:49] Mitch Prinstein: Exactly. We are so biologically primed to care about our social relationships because it used to be tethered to our survival.
[00:24:57] Now, at the minute we get rejected from others, our gene expresses itself to lower our viral immunity, because who are you going to get a virus from if you're all alone? And to increase our inflammation response because there's a good chance you're about to get attacked or some sort of bacterial infection.
[00:25:14] That all made sense 60, 000 years ago. Today, we live in a world where we are socially isolating to keep from getting viruses. And inflammation responses, inflammation diseases are the number one killer for our species.
[00:25:30] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Mitch Prinstein. We'll be right back. This episode is sponsored in part by Blinds Galore. The countdown to Black Friday and Cyber Monday is on. Dash over to blindsgalore. com and snag some free samples now so you're ready to order during their massive sale.
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[00:26:30] Order your free sample so you're ready for their huge Black Friday sale on November 21st when everything will be 50 percent off. Visit Blindsgalore. com today and let them know we sent you. That's Blindsgalore. com. This episode is also sponsored by BetterHelp. While we're deckin the halls and jinglin bells, let's be real.
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[00:27:22] Mitch Prinstein: first month. That's BetterH E
[00:27:24] Jordan Harbinger: L P. com slash Jordan. If you're wondering how I managed to book all these amazing folks for the show, it is because of the circle around me of people that I know, like, and trust.
[00:27:33] My network, even though that word, it sucks and is gross. I'm teaching you how to build your network for free. It's not going to make you popular per se, but it will make you likable. Over at jordanharbinger. course, it is free. The course is about improving your relationship building skills, inspiring other people to want to develop a relationship with you in a way that doesn't make you or them feel gross or used or yucky.
[00:27:52] It's just practical. It takes a few minutes a day, and many of the guests on the show subscribe and contribute to the course. So come join us. You'll be in smart company where you belong. You can find the course at jordanharbinger. com slash course. Now back to Mitch Prinstein. We see that chronic inflammation, I believe, causes cancer and other diseases.
[00:28:12] I don't know exactly. How that works. But inflammation is a buzzword in health and biohack circles, right? It's just like, get your inflammation down, use the cold plunge, then use the hot tub, then use the cold plunge again to mitigate inflammation and take aspirin to mitigate inflammation and do this to mitigate.
[00:28:27] It's all about mitigating chronic inflammation. And then after you work out, you want inflammation, but then you want it to go down. Right, so it makes sense that this kind of rejection would increase your inflammation, but you're right, it also doesn't really bode well for those of us who are maybe dealing with rejection every day in some way.
[00:28:46] Mitch Prinstein: That's absolutely right. We now live in a world where we don't make the kind of social connections we used to make and we're all dying of inflammation related diseases. This is a huge concern. Obviously, what's so interesting about it to me is that all of these ways that now have technology to connect are actually backfiring from kids all the way to adults are telling us the more time I spend connected to others online, the more I actually feel lonely and more isolated.
[00:29:13] We need a wake up call, right? There's something very wrong with our social relationships today.
[00:29:18] Jordan Harbinger: Going back to celebrities, they can never be authentic or they struggle to have real relationships. I suppose even with their friends and family included, especially if the reality TV show is about their family and we see those people.
[00:29:29] It must be a struggle for them to parent their kids and teach them values because they're living this completely sort of fake status driven life, and I'm not overly concerned with celebrities, but I feel like a lot of people in the public eye, especially those that are making themselves micro celebrities, if you can even call it that on TikTok and Instagram.
[00:29:47] Now, I'm not worried about the Kardashians. Who cares? They'll deal with whatever they deal with. I'm more worried about the mom blogger who blows up because she had a really popular year of videos about how she deals with her special needs child, and now she's got a hundred thousand people, a certain percentage of which are sending her nasty stuff every day.
[00:30:05] This is affecting her as well.
[00:30:08] Mitch Prinstein: Two kinds of status. Popularity, status, and likability. The people who even have the highest status out there are telling us what they really wish they had was more likability. The status is actually backfiring on them. The secret here is if you can have both. If you can have the status, but you preserve your likability.
[00:30:26] And that's what's really hard, is to recognize that the very things that give us more status, being aggressive, being focused on differentiating ourselves from others instead of connecting with others. They tend to erode our likability. So if there is that person out there that suddenly gets a dose of high status, that's great, but don't get into that addictive cycle where you start to lose the ability to connect with others, to still think about what's best for the community and don't get sucked into that aggressive behavior that's so frequently comes along with status.
[00:31:00] Jordan Harbinger: weird about this whole thing is just how. Durable, these mindsets are. When I went to law school, it was odd. It was like all these overachievers recreating their high school experience. Most of the people there were not going to be the most popular kid in high school, but we had a prom and there were clicks.
[00:31:17] And I just thought, have we not moved past this? And I couldn't tell, is it because we were in a smaller group that was similar in size to a high school? And so those. Types of social norms recreated or were these people almost deliberately recreating it and since I've almost never had a real job I don't know.
[00:31:34] Is it the size of the group that determines whether or not these dynamics are in place?
[00:31:39] Mitch Prinstein: The size of the group is a big part of it, but also, what are the affordances, what are the benefits that come from divvying up that way? And this is where things are happening a little bit different with kids in school now, because what we're trying to do is really help schools to teach that every kid brings value.
[00:31:54] It may not be in the same way, everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, but Everyone's presence is helping the collective, and that's what's really important. Law school is whoever gets that first internship in the summer after the first year is probably going to be set for life, right? So there's still competition and a sense of we need to really sort out who has the most or the least ability.
[00:32:15] So it's probably a different kind of scenario. The other thing that we have to remember is that it is totally natural for us to notice differences in each other, but are we exploiting that? Are we kind of rewarding that? Or are we finding ways to say, yeah, you have different interests and that's okay. I still need you and benefit from you in the same way that you benefit from me.
[00:32:36] We're still a collective. That's what's really missing and that's what's
[00:32:40] Jordan Harbinger: important. We learn a lot of things in school that'll make us successful. What we aren't really taught is how to structure and manage relationships, even though it seems like it's one of the most important traits anyone can have, and is a clear factor involved in success socially and professionally.
[00:32:53] I wonder if as a researcher you find it weird that we leave something so important largely up to trial and error.
[00:32:59] Mitch Prinstein: Yeah, what are we doing? Why are we missing the one thing that science says is more important than IQ, it's more important than your grade point average, your socioeconomic status. It's how likable you are.
[00:33:08] And it's related not only to your success, but your happiness and your mortality, believe it or not. The extent to which you are likable is going to affect when you die. So this is incredibly important. If I had the opportunity for everyone to teach this or learn this within school, it would be important for people to recognize that those patterns that we learn when we're in middle school and high school, we got to confront them and we have to overcome them because they tend to write scripts in our heads that make us see the world in the same way that we did when we were that vulnerable 11 year old and recognize that some of us out there are seeing the world is way more hostile than it is and others aren't seeing it as critical as maybe they need to because we've been so used to being trained to think that everyone will relate to us and the way that they did when we were 11.
[00:33:57] Jordan Harbinger: I think a lot of people conflate the likability versus popularity thing, right? So we see people who just don't know the difference or can't tell the difference. That happens a lot in school. It's, I'm popular, why does everyone hate me now? It's because I'm bullying to get the status. And that tension, if you don't outgrow that or figure out how to reconcile those things, it seems like that would cause you problems as an adult too.
[00:34:17] In addition, I don't know about you, I look down on people that openly chase status. And it's a little hypocritical, right? Because it's like, Oh no, chase status. But don't do it in a way where it's really obvious. Do it in a way that's like really covert and totally disingenuous. It's not quite that level, but it almost seems to be that way, right?
[00:34:34] Like I want you to be successful, but you can't rub it into other people's faces and be gaudy about it, but you should still do it. I don't really know why that is. Do you have any thoughts on that?
[00:34:44] Mitch Prinstein: Yeah, I think that no one likes a status seeker. We kind of want to just see that someone naturally got there.
[00:34:48] But also, if you do it in such a blatant way, you're also pretty unskilled at it. So now you look needy at the same time. So we kind of want someone to have status, almost as if they accidentally just fell into it. They weren't trying at all. But the higher status you get, the backlash is coming. We've seen that in so many cases, right?
[00:35:05] It's this interesting tension between likability and status. We want people to be likable, but we admire people who have high status. And until talking about this with this book and with all the talks that I've done around the country on this, a lot of people had not realized, wait a minute, these are two different ways.
[00:35:23] Of scratching the itch that I have as a human of wanting to be well regarded. They both can get me to happiness, but one is going to get me there fast, flame out, and probably have a lot of negativity associated with it. The other is going to be more enduring. And that's the problem. People don't recognize that difference.
[00:35:42] Status is related to short term gain, but longer term risk for depression, anxiety, addictions, demotions, firing. Likeability, on the other hand, being really kind, considerate to others, focused on the group as much as yourself, that is related to longer life, less diseases, more money. It's related to better happiness in your relationships.
[00:36:08] It has an intergenerational effect. So it actually leads your kids to be better adjusted and for them to be happier
[00:36:15] Jordan Harbinger: too. Yeah, that's scary, right? Because it shows you, hey, if you do this wrong, your kids are potentially gonna have a harder time doing this as well. It seems damning, man. It really does. I don't want to keep harping on it, but it is a little depressing.
[00:36:28] It's like you just can't outgrow it and marry somebody and be like, oh, finally, we're out of the rat race. It's like, nope, now your kids are doomed for this exact same thing. Well, let's talk about
[00:36:36] Mitch Prinstein: how to escape the doom. Yeah. Because you absolutely can. Okay. Right? So let's talk about that. So, step number one.
[00:36:42] Don't think that just because you're not in middle school and high school anymore, that life is gone. That would be a mistake. The fact is, it is memories that are being called into your every daily social perception. We can see that on an fMRI. And it is influencing everyone you say hello to, every social decision you are making.
[00:37:02] So first step is, let's not sweep this under the rug. Let's recognize That absolutely who you were back then is still influencing who you are today. Number two, let's take an honest look at who that person was. Maybe someone bullied. Maybe someone that was shy. Maybe someone who never had a negative thing said to them for their whole lives.
[00:37:22] I promise you, whatever it was, it is affecting you today. Here's an example. Show people a video of a social interaction today while they're wearing an eye tracking device. This is what scientists have done. Then look at what their eyes stared at the most while they watched that video of that social interaction.
[00:37:41] The people who were in grade school shy. are focusing mostly on more cues of other people being shy and nervous. The people who were aggressive are focusing on aggressive. This is years later, watching just at where their pupils are focusing. This is, we don't even realize we're doing this. And I'm telling you, we are recreating our 11 year old selves every day.
[00:38:02] So let's confront it. Let's recognize what it was, and then we have to go out in the world, preferably with someone to help you out, like a friend or a partner or somebody, and we need to start checking in and saying, that really pissed me off because I think they were being mean to me, but that might just be my automatic way of responding.
[00:38:19] Just turn to this person next to me and say, did that come across the same way to you as it did to me? And start recognizing we need to rewrite some of those experiences. Overlay that lens with reality. This is cue encoding
[00:38:30] Jordan Harbinger: bias, right? Yes. Yeah. Yes. Thank you. Exactly. When I read about this in your book, I was like, oh, I've heard, I've seen this.
[00:38:36] Years ago, I was sitting at a table at a Korean barbecue place. It's like a big sort of picnic table, dining table, right? With a barbecue in the middle. And I was talking with people normally. And at the end, guy that I had met recently, who was a friend of a friend or whatever, who listens to this show, he complained to somebody and said, Jordan was blocking me from the table.
[00:38:57] And he had his back turned to me. He didn't want me to interact with anybody else. And I was like, I wasn't even thinking about any of this. I was just having conversations with people and going about my life. And he made a really big deal about it to the point where other people in the group were like, I don't want to hang out with that guy anymore.
[00:39:12] He was like reading into everybody's behavior. He's accusing you of blocking him. You're the one that invited him. It doesn't even make any sense. And now I have a little bit more sympathy for this guy knowing all this because. He was just looking at the filter of his whole life. People ignore me and they reject me.
[00:39:29] Almost like confirmation bias was just looking for that in every social interaction that we had to the point where it was so exhausting that we did end up rejecting him. It was a self fulfilling prophecy. Yeah. Because I was like, I can't be around some guy who's going to question my behavior when I'm trying to get a freaking piece of bibimbap or whatever off the grill.
[00:39:47] I don't want to have to think about like, Oh, don't turn your back on Tom. He's going to whine about it on WhatsApp for the next three days. That's ridiculous. It ended up being a whole big thing. It ruined our relationship. We don't hang out with them anymore. That's
[00:39:58] Mitch Prinstein: exactly it. And think about it. How much time in our lives do we spend either thinking about how we just acted in front of others or thinking about how someone else just acted and talking about it, analyzing it, thinking about it?
[00:40:12] Finding it confusing, that's because of what we're talking about, but we never usually talk about, which is that we're all wired differently. We all have had different experiences growing up, and that is still playing out in the rest of our lives. That's what makes relationships complicated. And it happens not just in our personal life, it happens at work too.
[00:40:30] Every time the boss says something or a team member says something, we're like, what's up with that? This is all stemming back to the stuff that we experienced when we were young and that's why it's so important we're talking about this. It's a life skill we deal with a million times a day.
[00:40:44] Jordan Harbinger: Does popularity affect our brain and hormones like oxytocin?
[00:40:48] For those who don't know, it's what's released when you hug someone or when you're breastfeeding and things like that. It causes bonding between humans. Does popularity affect those types of brain chemicals? Yeah,
[00:40:58] Mitch Prinstein: absolutely. In fact, I might even say it the other way around. Those types of brain chemicals end up changing how we decide to act in social relationships a lot.
[00:41:06] So we are driven in an area of the brain below the cortex, shared with many mammals. It's not very human. It's more primitive. We are driven to go find social reinforcement. Someone nodding at you, smiling at you, agreeing with you, even just making eye contact with you, sends off oxytocin we are being driven in a pretty primitive way to get more of those likes and more of that positive response.
[00:41:35] That's really important. Now, as adults, we can do that in really sophisticated ways, but Kids are doing it in more primitive ways, and when we're maybe a little inebriated, maybe a little upset, maybe a little tired, we're probably also looking for that more primitive response, too, because we're not being as sophisticated in those situations.
[00:41:52] That's a huge part of our social lives today.
[00:41:58] Jordan Harbinger: This is the Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Mitch Prinstein. We'll be right back. This episode is sponsored in part by Nissan. These days, too many people have to settle for the next best thing, especially when it comes to choosing a car, but at Nissan, there's a vehicle type for everyone, for every driver who wants more.
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[00:42:31] In my life, I'm always looking for more, I don't know, like in this episode, understanding of popularity's influence on human behavior and its long term effects that can guide us toward healthier relationships and a more fulfilling life. And that's why I love that Nissan wants to help people find their more.
[00:42:45] More freedom, more adventure, or even just more fun. So thanks again to Nissan for sponsoring this episode of the Jordan Harbinger Show, and for the reminder to find your more. Learn more at NissanUSA. com. This episode is brought to you in part by U. S. Bank. Seems like there's a credit card for everything these days, right?
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[00:44:20] Now for the rest of my conversation with Mitch Prinstein. What about proxies for status, followers, likes, money? We brought this up before, but these aren't status directly, but it's a proxy for that. Is there something to be said about this? Because if I'm chasing popularity online, I measure it using those things.
[00:44:43] But it's not quite the same thing, right? There's probably plenty of people who don't make a lot of money doing what they're doing, like on YouTube. They have a ton of followers, but it's for this really niche thing. But it's still status. But when they step outside that realm, nobody cares about them because nobody knows who they are.
[00:44:59] Actually, quite a lot like my podcast, frankly, right? So. I would never go into a room of people at a party and be like, do you know that I have a podcast? No one cares. And I'm familiar with that. But when I go to podcast movements, some convention, I'm like, I don't need to wear my name tag. It's a, it's a whole different environment.
[00:45:17] Seems like we then crave the proxy itself, not just the status. Does this distinction make any sense?
[00:45:23] Mitch Prinstein: Absolutely. I call it the empty calories of social interaction because it tricks our body into thinking that we're getting what we need, but it actually provides no sustainable kind of nourishment for what it is that's best for us.
[00:45:36] Absolutely. I think you're describing it perfectly. And I think what happens is that we tend to rely on it sometimes a little bit heavy, almost like that rat in a Skinner box that's going to press the bar to get a pellet to drop. You know, if we're feeling down, we're going to log in to social media and we're going to be like, wow, look, I got 20 people who like that comment or something like that.
[00:45:54] It's pretty ephemeral. So we're not going to feel better about that over the course of days and weeks, but it might make us feel good for
[00:46:01] Jordan Harbinger: 15 minutes. Yeah, it seems like that approval from strangers is something that's quite odd in modern society, but approval from those we look up to and admire is even more important.
[00:46:12] And I found it interesting you wrote that we act impulsively more when we're around people that we admire. That explains high school peer pressure from the popular kids quite a bit when I was a kid I remember going to a store and the kids wanted to go shoplifting and I was like no way and they're like fine You watch the bikes So I was essentially an accessory to a crime Because I was like at least I can ride bikes with the cool kids next time cuz I'm still in the group It was like the dumbest thing that I've done and I remember it to this day because it was so dumb Is it that we lose our inhibitions when we're faced with a social reward?
[00:46:47] What is going
[00:46:47] Mitch Prinstein: on here? Yeah, so you've got two parts of the brain that are playing tug of war and the part of the brain that's making us really want that oxytocin and dopamine is right next to an area that says, go get more of whatever will make us feel this way. So it's a motivational kind of center of the brain.
[00:47:03] And that's playing tug of war with a brain's brakes or an inhibition center. That inhibition center doesn't fully mature until the age of 25. So that's an unfair tug of war from about 10 to 25. It's very rare that inhibition center is going to win. We're just going to go and do whatever gets us that attention and that status.
[00:47:21] Now, in today's age that we live in though, we can still pursue that status with every mouse click. It's going to get reinforced. We're going to be introduced based on our follower counts. That's going to be a leading part of our bios. So it's changed that calculus a little bit to now, even as adults, we might go and do some stupid things just because we know it's going to get us some more followers or some more status.
[00:47:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it really does explain the peer pressure and our desire to be liked results in us essentially conforming to the preferences of others. I would wager that only a couple kids in that group had any desire to go into that store and shoplift for whatever dumb reason and everybody else just kind of along for the ride.
[00:47:58] And you see this all the time, right? Like, she's a good kid. I don't understand why he got arrested with these kids. We're stealing candy. This isn't him. And it's like, that's what this is. He wanted to hang out with them because they usually bully him or bug him or don't want to hang out with him or reject him and this time they were like, come with us.
[00:48:13] So he did, and even though he knew this was wrong, they ended up getting caught. That's the one who like, pisses his pants at the police station and they're like, this is not, this is not the kid we're looking for. Like, where are the other kids who actually did all this? I really find this to be fascinating because of course this shows up in adulthood with marketing, I think influencers are like, oh, I use this and look how beautiful and successful I am.
[00:48:34] And people are like, well, better buy that kind of toothpaste as soon as I can. And it's so subconscious because. It's been working on us for decades at this
[00:48:42] Mitch Prinstein: point. Oh, yeah This is underlying so much of what happens in marketing in politics at the workplace in our marriages and our relationships These dynamics of how we interact with others and what will give us more status versus likeability.
[00:48:56] This is why i'm so excited We're talking about it because if people were aware of that distinction if they took a really hard look at themselves and say Why am I doing this? Why am I spending so much money on this haircut or on this shirt or whatever? If you realize that you're being pulled towards status versus likeability all the time and whatever choice you make, at least you were doing it with a choice in mind, it wasn't just automatic.
[00:49:17] I think we would all be a lot happier. I also think we would see our society change in really, really helpful ways. But until now, I fear that we're just pursuing whatever our brain and our transmitters are pushing us to, not realizing that there's this huge difference between these two different kinds of popularity.
[00:49:33] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's very interesting to see how marketers take advantage of this, not just in selling toothpaste, but even in something like music chart manipulation, or there are podcasters that'll pay tons of money to. Get featured somewhere and since I have some industry connections, I'll say like, Oh, how did this person get featured there?
[00:49:53] What can I do to get featured there? Is it just, and they're like, Oh, actually they pay us 5, 000 a month. And I'm thinking there's no way that this show generates even close to that amount of money that this cost. And look, advertising is fine. But some of this stuff is designed to give the appearance of popularity outside of simple advertising and it works.
[00:50:13] With music chart manipulation especially, I think back in the day they used to call it payola, right? Oh, the DJ just loves this artist. No, the record label's given that guy 5, 000 a month to play their catalog, and that later I think became illegal, or became the only thing that they do, depending on the market, because they know popularity gets conflated with quality.
[00:50:31] That's right. Is it that we like to assume we're similar to others, so we try to conform our preferences subconsciously to other people's preferences?
[00:50:39] Mitch Prinstein: That's exactly right. We're really thinking that popularity must mean that it's good. I also, simultaneously, I don't want to be the only one left out. So if everyone is talking about this show or this music or this book, you know, or podcast, and I haven't been one of the people to listen, I'm going to be lost in the conversation.
[00:50:57] I'm not going to be part of the herd. So it plays up in both ways. I assume it's good, and I'm really scared that I'll be left out unless I'm part of the group that's doing it like everyone else.
[00:51:06] Jordan Harbinger: And I suppose even if you think you're really different than everyone else, you're largely just conforming to the identity that you are totally not everyone else.
[00:51:14] Hipsters. I brew my own coffee. I use wax on my mustache and wear flannel shirts. And it's like, cool. There's a whole club of people that do that too. And then you got to go and find something new.
[00:51:23] Mitch Prinstein: We call that anti conformity and people that are doing that are incredibly guided by what's popular. They're just making choices to try and differentiate from what's popular, but they're still paying attention to what's mainstream.
[00:51:35] So anti popularity is actually one of the biggest ways of being conformist because you have to be very in tune with what is popular.
[00:51:42] Jordan Harbinger: I hadn't thought about that. Do you listen to Taylor Swift? No! That's mainstream nonsense! Okay, but you know exactly who she is and that she's popular right now. You're like a, a magnet where the North Pole and the North Pole are facing each other.
[00:51:53] You have to know where the other one is in order to repel. So you really have to track what's popular just like everyone else, and then walk away from it or run away from it as opposed to running towards it. That's so funny. I never thought about
[00:52:04] Mitch Prinstein: that. Yep. Yep. That's a great way to put in it tracking
[00:52:07] Jordan Harbinger: popularity and running in the opposite direction, but you still have to track popularity.
[00:52:11] So you haven't opted out of the system at all. Yeah,
[00:52:14] Mitch Prinstein: you're absolutely right. And then the other piece, like you say, is that if your reference group is either all humans or just the other people who think like me, but you're still trying to conform or you're still trying to get a good place within that subgroup.
[00:52:26] So we're all the people that reject mainstream music, but that means there's a reference group of all those other people. That you want to have good status within as well. We're always looking and comparing ourselves to someone, no matter how big or small that group is. It's a reference group that we care deeply about.
[00:52:43] Tell me about
[00:52:44] Jordan Harbinger: the chat room experiment, because I think a lot of us who think, look, peer pressure, I taught my kid how to deal with that, or I taught myself how to deal with that. There's still real influence, even in the absence of peers.
[00:52:54] Mitch Prinstein: One of the ways that we study popularity and its effects is that we created a long time ago a little computer paradigm where kids interact and what they think is a chat room with others that are their age and we give them some clues and signals to make It seem like you might be in the room with the most popular kids in your grade or the least popular kids in your grade And then we ask them different things.
[00:53:12] Would you do this really kind community service? Would you do this really risky behavior? Would you take these really illegal drugs? But before they answer, we give them what they believe. This is of course, just our computer program. In most cases, we give them feedback that shows them that the other kids in the chat room with them are saying, yeah, I would definitely do that.
[00:53:31] Or no, I would never do that. And what we find is this remarkable power of how much kids are likely to emulate their peers behavior, especially if their peers are the most popular kids and they're great or friends with the most popular kids. in their grade. And what happens is not only do they say it while they think those other kids are watching, but then we say, all right, get out of the chat room.
[00:53:50] Forget it. Log out. No one's going to see this now. Now, what would you really do? Just tell us privately. And now they really adopted personally those beliefs that they would do this really risky stuff just because they saw the other popular kids in their grades say they would do the same thing.
[00:54:05] Incredibly powerful effects of popularity.
[00:54:08] Jordan Harbinger: Did you guys use some sort of AI type thing or just scripted stuff? Oh,
[00:54:12] Mitch Prinstein: this was many years ago that we started it. So back then it was pretty primitive, but we made it look like a computer program that had these kinds of things, much like you would see in a chat room where people are voting on different things together.
[00:54:23] It was really powerful. What we've seen in the literature since then is that other people have looked at what happens in the human brain when you start seeing that people really like an idea. And what they would do is they would show people images of really illegal or dangerous things to adolescents.
[00:54:39] And they would look at adolescents brains while they were watching these images. And adolescents brains would activate in ways that are like, Whoa, avoid that, super dangerous. Then they would show them the same pictures, but they would put a little like icon on it, like it's on social media, and say, oh, this image got like a hundred likes.
[00:54:54] And suddenly those adolescent brains did not activate in the same areas. Now their brains are activating like, ooh, I want more of that. So it really shows you just by making something look popular, it's changing how the brain is processing that information. Does
[00:55:08] Jordan Harbinger: it change our ability to distinguish between bad and good, or does it just compromise us caring about bad versus good?
[00:55:16] Mitch Prinstein: We need some more research on that, but I think the latter. I think it makes us think, Wow, if everyone likes that, then it must be something that I want and it's okay, and I therefore believe that all the other kids out there think that's a cool thing to do. I know I
[00:55:28] Jordan Harbinger: sound like a boomer. This explains the degradation of society because of social media, right?
[00:55:32] Do you remember prank shows in the 80s and 90s? And it was all kind of good natured, and it would be like a guy goes into a port a potty and then they change everything around it so that when they walk out, they're in a restaurant and everyone's like looking at them. And it's funny because it's this harmless thing and you think like, Oh my God, what is this person thinking right now?
[00:55:50] Now pranks are a kid jumps on your table full of food and dances and ruins everybody's food and pisses everybody off and then runs away and goes, It's a prank, bro. And he's like upset when he gets arrested because he doesn't understand. And I'm not really exaggerating. This is the kind of crap you see on TikTok and social media.
[00:56:08] And it seems like that becomes popular because it's offensive or other people who are, I don't know, mentally not all there think that's hilarious. You see something like that get a bunch of likes, and people start mimicking that behavior. It's really gross. And you see this dumb stuff happening online.
[00:56:23] Or more insidious stuff, like, women looking at other women on social media who are editing their photos and being like, Oh, I have to just stop eating for a month. I'm not trying to make light of an eating disorder, but I feel like this stuff has to make those worse.
[00:56:35] Mitch Prinstein: We've had technology before. We've had the invention of the printing press, the telephone and email.
[00:56:40] Why is social media getting all this attention? What might be worse about it? Well, we're still figuring that out, but it's a confluence of a bunch of things. It's permanent. It's worldwide. It's immediate. It's being driven in some cases by artificial intelligence. It's this whole perfect storm of things that are all happening at the same time.
[00:56:58] And for teens, it's really playing into that desire for popularity all at once too. So you're not going to get kids to put down their phones if they have an opportunity for a dopamine and oxytocin hit at the time that their brains are most supercharged to want that. It's the worst possible scenario for them.
[00:57:15] My kids
[00:57:15] Jordan Harbinger: are a decade away from social media, if not more, but I really do worry about this. Especially, I've got a young girl, she's one and a half now, but I'm like, what's gonna happen when she starts seeing what other photos or AI women look like? Is she gonna hate her body, or is my son gonna think he's too short because he's just a little bit small for his age?
[00:57:33] Like, all these things that you could just go home and get away from are now gonna be, like, beaming into his brain 24 7. It's terrifying to think about as a parent.
[00:57:41] Mitch Prinstein: I am that parent. My kids are at that age and it's something we have to talk about to really help counteract what's out there because, yeah, it's designed to get them as engaged as possible and to keep them on there and they are going to see imagery on there.
[00:57:53] That's going to be incredibly influential. It's a pretty sensitive time. So we think that there are ways that social media can actually be really helpful and could be good for kids, but we just have to start having more dialogues about this. We can't just let it happen naturally. We have to oversee what our kids are doing and talk with them about it pretty explicitly.
[00:58:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, look, I'm not anti social media entirely. My son and I watch videos that I, of course, curate and search for, and he's like, Wow, our planet is so small compared to the sun. I didn't know that. The sun looks so small in the sky, and he's learning all these things on YouTube. Yeah. But then, when you look at the negative consequences of social media or unpopularity, let's talk about this, because we typically hear, like, loneliness and depression, but there's a cortisol response.
[00:58:34] There are physical ailments. Take us through this a little bit. We want for
[00:58:37] Mitch Prinstein: kids to not be rejected. We know that being rejected... Or being really low and in status popularity, that's of course going to be difficult because you're going to get some bullying. You're going to see ways that's affecting how our brains and our bodies respond to stress.
[00:58:50] We're going to see that that's affecting kids learning opportunities. If you don't have any friends, if you don't have any opportunity, To learn good skills, you're probably going to keep on getting worse than your social skills over time, research says. So we want kids to be average. We don't want them to be focusing on popularity too much, but we want them to avoid the worst of rejection too.
[00:59:11] Jordan Harbinger: I didn't even think about that. There's that sort of band in the middle where things are more, I guess, ideal, right? Yeah. Teens who learn social behavior online during formative years, you wrote, are less skilled in those areas later on. So boys learning romantic and relationship skills online during those formative years are, no surprise, a lot worse at that stuff later on.
[00:59:33] I would imagine an internet relationship just doesn't teach you how to be in a real relationship as an adult. That's for boys. What about girls? Is it the same thing? You specified boys in your book.
[00:59:43] Mitch Prinstein: Yeah, the research is still emerging in this area, but remember that every minute that someone's spending online, that's a minute they're not spending learning something elsewhere or having that experience elsewhere.
[00:59:54] And it's incredibly complicated, especially for females, because there's such expectation. Probably really unfairly, of course, about how well girls are supposed to be in their social relationships, to navigate these delicate nuances of intimacy, and it's really very tricky. For girls especially, there's this kind of requirement that if your friend posts a selfie, You had better be on that selfie within 10 minutes saying amazing things or it's a betrayal of friendships.
[01:00:20] It's a remarkable amount of pressure that girls are experiencing online too. It's not a bad idea to take a holiday. Or go out and grab some frozen yogurt but leave your phone in the car or in your pocket. And try and get some of that in person or face to face experience
[01:00:35] Jordan Harbinger: again. The idea that this stuff sticks with us for so long is something I want to go over more in the show close, because there's some practicals that people can do and ways to shake this loose or at least change things.
[01:00:45] But you write about rejection sensitivity bias, hostile attribution bias. I'd love to hear about these and how they rub off on our partners, our kids, our co workers.
[01:00:54] Mitch Prinstein: Yeah, whether we realize it or not, the experiences that we had when we were young, they are still affecting the way that we see social interactions today.
[01:01:02] So we have to take stock at what we experienced when we were growing up, recognize it, give voice to it, talk with our partners or our friends about it explicitly, so that way we have someone that can help us start to see where our blind spots are. where our biases are. We all have them. And to be clear, I'm not just talking about those people who had trouble with popularity.
[01:01:23] I am very worried for that kid that never had a bad day with their friends in their lives because that person doesn't know how to recognize when they are getting Critical feedback, or when they might be at risk for something that's going awry, and they need to recognize they have a positivity bias that's probably going to hurt them just as much as that kid that was bullied a lot and fears that everyone is still being hostile towards them.
[01:01:46] Jordan Harbinger: Wait, interesting, so we can maybe be too sensitive to rejection, we can be too sensitive to thinking that somebody's being hostile when they're not, but we can also be not sensitive enough to know we're being rejected or getting critical feedback, as you put it? How does that work? Oh, yeah. Why is that
[01:01:59] Mitch Prinstein: bad?
[01:02:00] We all know those people. We all know someone that seems to not recognize that maybe they have some responsibility in that social interaction, or maybe they did something that was objectively off putting, or maybe they were overly self focused. We know those people, and we know that the reason why they're having those reactions is because they maybe have a bias from growing up and getting nothing but positive feedback and acclaim for their whole lives.
[01:02:24] That's a bad thing, too. A little bit of adversity goes a long way.
[01:02:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, you do discuss the negative outcomes that a lot of popular kids had when they become adults and that stuff is really Fascinating popular teenagers doing less Well as adults were even when controlling for other factors such as socio economics and other factors high status at 13 resulted in lower quality Relationships later in life higher substance abuse issues resulted in a lifetime in many instances of seeking more popularity That's yucky and scary So you're doing great at 13, dot, dot, dot, drug use, lower quality relationships and trying to regain your status when you're 40 because you were popular at 13.
[01:03:04] That's an albatross around your neck if I've ever heard
[01:03:07] Mitch Prinstein: one. Absolutely. No, you're exactly right. In one study that I loved reading about, they actually interviewed the partners 13 year olds who are still striving years later. And their spouses or partners and best friends are saying they still are so fixated on status.
[01:03:25] They still treat me as a pawn for themselves to get more status. They still use me rather than actually connect with me. These are patterns they learned when they were young about how to become cool and get everyone's attention, and they never Stopped using those same tactics, even though they're so not helping them anymore,
[01:03:43] Jordan Harbinger: man, you mentioned earlier that popularity can sort of be inherited, or at least we pass some of it on to our kids or lack of it onto our kids.
[01:03:51] What are the effects of parents on Children with respect to popularity? And I'm asking this again because the question naturally arises, can parents make their kids more popular? And then given what you just said, should parents make their kids more popular? It seems ridiculous to me somehow, but maybe given what we've learned, that's a really bad
[01:04:08] Mitch Prinstein: idea.
[01:04:09] I've talked in some communities where parents are... Going to every possible length to make sure their kids are prom king and queen or captain of the team or something like that. And no, I think that's a bad idea. I think that we want our kids to be high in likability. We do not want them to be high in status.
[01:04:27] We should not be helping them to be high in status. And if they are high in status, we should be emphasizing how much they're making others feel included. Helping to make other people feel valued. That makes you likable. It also is good for our community. So that's what parents can be spending their time teaching their kids to do every day, but teaching them how to wear the coolest clothes and have the highest status and, you know, have everyone else fearing them or being ruled by them, that's a bad life lesson.
[01:04:55] Jordan Harbinger: you do note in the book that likable kids develop emotional skills faster, they refine their social skills, which then of course makes them more likable, so there's a positive cycle there, and I guess our behavior is a factor in how other people treat us, as well as a predictor of success later in life, so there's another positive cycle, right, because if we're likable and other people treat us like we're likable, we end up as more likable, and we end up reading other people better, and then that leads to a more successful outcome later in life.
[01:05:22] Yeah. I did find that there were some interesting notes in your book about play style and wrestling with kids. Do you remember that stuff? I'd love to talk about that because I wrestle with my kids all the time and my wife and mother in law are like, no, don't turn them upside down. They're going to get hurt, but they love it.
[01:05:36] And I do get some sort of primal reaction from this, I think.
[01:05:39] Mitch Prinstein: Yeah. So the way that we interact with our kids has a huge effect. In some ways, we can orchestrate our kids social lives by literally making play dates for them. What you're talking about is also the ways that we just act as parents in front of them.
[01:05:51] And when we play with our kids, we're giving them a learning opportunity to deal with a huge range of emotions, right? What is it like when they get really happy? Or what's it like when they have to share? What's it like when they... Maybe you have to figure out a conflict. So those opportunities they're having with parents, give them the template for how to experience emotion, how to cope, how to deal with social situations.
[01:06:13] So our play with them is a really important formative ground for them learning those skills. This might be a
[01:06:19] Jordan Harbinger: little out of bounds, but I'm wondering what you think of sensitivity to children's emotions. When my son falls on the playground, unless it looks really gnarly, I either brush him off or I ignore it.
[01:06:29] But the in laws and grandparents do not react the same way, right? It's, oh my god, are you okay? Be careful! Let's go do something else. And he doesn't really like that. I wonder, is hypersensitivity to emotions, does that play any role here, or is this a completely different thing?
[01:06:45] Mitch Prinstein: It's different for every kid.
[01:06:47] Really, it's about us trying to figure out what parent does this kid need, more than what is the best way to be a parent. Because some kids, they could use a little bit of help in those situations, and other kids, they're going to freak out plenty on their own, they don't need everyone else around them freaking out too, right?
[01:07:04] So, it really is about how we figure out What does the kid need? How do we provide the scaffolding around them to give them just the amount of support they need to stand on their own, but not too much where if we walked away, they collapse. I
[01:07:17] Jordan Harbinger: really appreciate your time, man. I assume that your academic study of popularity maybe didn't do much for your personal popularity or did it?
[01:07:25] Was it too
[01:07:25] Mitch Prinstein: late? It's too late for me. I don't know, I was the kid that was never really high in status, but always did pretty well, I think, in terms of likability, and I always noticed the difference between the two, so when I got to the point of going into psychology, and going to graduate school, and realizing that people studied this for a living, I was like, oh my god, this is awesome, this is amazing that people are talking about this, and I was hooked.
[01:07:49] Jordan Harbinger: Mitch Prinstein, thank you so much, man. Really appreciate it. This stuff is fascinating. I totally get why you got into this field. This stuff is top notch. And it seems like we should learn some of this in school, maybe early on, so that we can decide what kind of person we want to be, and then figure out how to get there.
[01:08:06] Again, I know I said this earlier in the show, but it seems very odd to me that we leave a lot of this to chance, when it essentially predicts the path we're going to take through the rest of
[01:08:14] Mitch Prinstein: our life. I agree. A hundred percent. Thanks for thinking of me for this. This was fun.
[01:08:20] Jordan Harbinger: We've got a trailer for our interview with Robert Green, one of the most acclaimed authors of our time.
[01:08:25] Robert's insight into human nature is second to none. And there's a reason that his books are banned in prisons yet widely read by both scholars and leaders alike. If we just sit in our inner tube with our hands behind our head and crack open a six pack of beer, the river of dark nature takes us towards that waterfall of the shadow.
[01:08:43] Robert Greene: Yeah, so when we're children, if we weren't educated, if we didn't have teachers or parents telling us to study, we'd be these monsters. We're all flawed. I believe we humans naturally feel envy. It's the chimpanzee in us. It's been shown that primates are very attuned to other animals in their clan, and they're constantly comparing themselves.
[01:09:08] Your dislike of that fellow artist or that other podcaster? 99 percent sure that it comes from a place of envy. You are not a rational being. Rationality is something you earn. It's a struggle. It takes effort. It takes awareness. You have to go through steps. You have to see your biases. When you think you're being rational, you're not being rational at all.
[01:09:31] You go around everything is personal. Oh, why did he say that? Why is my mom telling me this? And I'm telling you it's not personal. That's the liberating fact. People are wrapped up in their own emotions, their own traumas. So you need to be aware that people have their own inner reality. People are not nearly as happy and successful as you think they are.
[01:09:52] Acknowledging that you have a dark side, that you have a shadow, that you're not such a great person as you think, can actually Be a very liberating feeling and there are ways to take that shadow in that darkness and kind of turn it into something else.
[01:10:08] Jordan Harbinger: If you want to learn more about how to read others and even yourself, be sure to check out episode 117 of the Jordan Harbinger show.
[01:10:18] I love that this topic was studied by an academic. The irony is not lost on me. There are so many problems with chasing populated. Look, it's normal to seek status. But some of us go to extremes and it becomes a real problem. We find there's aggressive behavior to protect status. Bullying, in other words.
[01:10:34] There's proactive and reactive aggression. It's very short sighted, but we see this happen with kids and adults all the time. We also see celebrities. Who are not necessarily known for being geniuses, being able to spread something because of their status. Look at Tom Cruise in Scientology. Look at the psychology advice, if you can even call it that, given by celebrities.
[01:10:53] Or Jenny McCarthy. She had this whole anti vaccines cause autism thing, and then she realized that that wasn't the case. But the damage is done. She's gone back on it, but the damage is done. There's an excessive desire for status among so many people. The shift from benchmarking a good life In terms of needing to contribute to society and have a great family versus now, people think they need status and wealth in order to have a good life.
[01:11:17] And I got to tell you, it's just not true. I mean, the research is in, right? We, we did that episode with Waldinger. That's not what makes people happy at the end of their life. It's not what makes people happy and fulfilled throughout their life. And yet we are gearing our whole life towards a lot of this stuff.
[01:11:31] Fame and status are in, community is out, and that is a bad thing. You might argue that we're simply higher on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, but I, I don't think that that's really the case. I think we might be, but of course, it's not making us happier, which I think is really the point. I also found it interesting, this is from the book, Depressive Realism.
[01:11:49] What this essentially is is people with low status tend to be depressed, and that can actually be an advantage because they see things more accurately. People higher in status... Have less of an ability to read others emotional cues and lower EQ. I wish I'd asked him more about that. We sort of ran out of time.
[01:12:05] But I thought that was quite fascinating that the sad people saw things more accurately and the happy people or popular people had less of an ability to read others. But maybe that's why they're less sad. They don't really bounce off the sad people that are around them. I really don't know. Interesting and probably requires further study.
[01:12:20] Fascinating episode. All things Mitch Prinstein will be in the show notes at jordanharbinger. com. You can also ask our AI chat bot on the website. Transcripts always in the show notes. Advertisers, deals, discounts, and ways to support this show, all at jordanharbinger. com slash deals. Please consider supporting those who support this show.
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[01:12:56] JordanHarbinger. com slash news is where you can find it. And we're going to be doing some cool giveaways. I know I keep saying that, but it's, it's like, it's real. It's not just vapor. I'm just, I got back from vacation. Why, why do I feel like you're all staring at me right now? Don't forget six minute networking as well.
[01:13:10] That's over at Jordan Harbinger. com slash course. I'm at Jordan Harbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn. This show is created in association with podcast. One. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jace Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Emilio Campo, Ian Baird, and Gabriel Mizrahi.
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[01:13:40] But if you know somebody who's interested in being popular or interested in psychology, that's probably a good person to share this episode with. In the meantime, I hope you apply what you hear on the show so you can live what you learn, and we'll see you next time. Special thanks again to Nissan for sponsoring this episode of the Jordan Harbinger Show.
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