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Cliquey, gossipy students seen as popular: study
NEW YORK |
NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Cliques of girls or boys who gossip and spread rumors at school might make life miserable for some other students but it helps their popularity, according to a study of high school students.
U.S. researchers surveyed about 600 boys and girls from age nine to 18 at a public school system in a working class community in the U.S. northeast from 1995 to 2004 to see how aggression, popularity and academic achievement impacted membership in cliques.
They found that bullying and physical aggression helped popularity in the earlier grades but membership in physically aggressive cliques declined as children got older.
But membership in cliques where students gossiped, spread rumors and excluded others -- otherwise known as relational aggression -- remained constant and even increased the perceived popularity and social visibility of the students in cliques.
"A lot of popular kids may not be well liked, but they are relationally aggressive and their peers think that they are popular," researcher Casey Borch from the University of Alabama at Birmingham said in a statement.
He said "the mean girls' effect" suggests that girls behaved in this way more than boys.
But Borch and his fellow researchers from Radboud University Nijmegen and the University of Connecticut found minority boys actually gained more from this behavior.
"Minority boys who are relationally aggressive gained a lot more popularity over time than any other group, although, they were less likely to use the behavior," said Borch.
The study, which will be published in a book "Modeling Dyadic and Interdependent Data in Developmental Research" later this year, also found that the divisions in race and ethnicity increased as the students aged.
In fourth grade about half of cliques were of mixed race and ethnicity, but by the 12th grade, nearly 90 percent of cliques were of only one race or ethnicity.
"This was even more surprising given the increasing ethnic diversity of the school system we studied over time. We did not expect to see the racial composition of the cliques to go from 50 percent mixed to just 10 percent," said Borch.
The study was based on researchers getting students to identify the cliques in their schools, the overtly aggressive classmates, and rating the cliques on popularity.
"Cliques aren't necessarily bad. It just depends on the kind of clique a child is in," said Borch.
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