Dec. 6, 2021

Best of 2021: Mitch Prinstein | The Power of Likability in a Status Obsessed World

Best of 2021: Mitch Prinstein | The Power of Likability in a Status Obsessed World

Your happiness and success are tied to your popularity. And it goes all the way back to high school. In today's episode, Mitch Prinstein helps us to explore the correlation between popularity and happiness by sharing secrets to boosting your likab...

Your happiness and success are tied to your popularity. And it goes all the way back to high school. In today's episode, Mitch Prinstein helps us to explore the correlation between popularity and happiness by sharing secrets to boosting your likability through things such as understanding what makes people tick; developing empathy for others; making people feel good about themselves; using humor in moderation and many more ways!

Mitch Prinstein, Ph.D. is board certified in clinical child and adolescent psychology and serves as the John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, and the Director of Clinical Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He and his research have been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, U.S. News & World Report, Time magazine, New York magazine, Newsweek, Reuters, Family Circle, Real Simple, and elsewhere.

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Srini: Mitch welcome to the unmistakable. Creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us. Thanks for all. Yeah, it is my pleasure to have you here. So I found out about your work because Amazon recommended your book popular the power of likability in a status obsessed world. And it just, the title alone grabbed me as somebody who wasn't popular in high school.

Srini: I thought, okay, this is something I really want to understand. And if somebody has actually decoded this into a science, then I definitely want to understand it. Okay. And so given the background that you have and the nature of your subject better, I want to start with what I think is a highly relevant question to it.

Srini: And that is what social group were you a part of in high school. And how did that end up influencing the choices that you've made throughout your life and career?

Mitch Prinstein: I'll give you a few hints. I was under five feet tall until 11th grade. I probably weighed about 80 pounds. When I graduated high school, I had glasses with bifocals and I wore parachute pants.

Mitch Prinstein: So obviously I was the coolest kid in school right now. I was I was a nerd and and but I was that kid that was constantly looking around the cafeteria and around school and being like, why are these kids popular and why am I not? And which kids are most popular.

Mitch Prinstein: And how does that matter? Should I care about this? After I graduated high school? I had no idea there was an entire science. Okay.

Srini: So w what in the world led you down this career trajectory? Because I, like almost every single person I interview, studying popularity for a living doesn't seem like something that a high school guidance counselor is going to say, yeah, this might be a good career path.

Mitch Prinstein: I I was always interested in psychology, I, it, wasn't just that people told me about, talking with others and listening to their problems, but I loved science. I love the idea that there's a science that studies. How we behave, what choices we make, what attitudes we have. And, for me, it felt like my peers were so incredibly impactful and the kid that I was becoming and the adult that I was growing up to be.

Mitch Prinstein: It was fascinating to me that a lot of people did not spend time focusing on how our peer interactions are really related to our adjustment overall. So when I was applying to graduate school, I found all these researchers that were working on our peer relationships, including our popularity as being a big predictor of outcomes.

Mitch Prinstein: What I didn't know is that it was a bigger predictor of outcomes than everything else. It predicts our life success and our happiness and our risks for disease and mental health. Even more than our IQ does, or our family's economic background predicts more than our physical health. So I somehow accidentally stumbled into this area that was wildly important, but was really not discussing.

Mitch Prinstein: Yeah.

Srini: So first off did your parents encourage any particular career path? This is always something I'm interested in because, as an immigrant, Indian parents are always very clear on exactly what they think you should do, even though they're not always right.

Mitch Prinstein: I'm Jewish.

Mitch Prinstein: So I had two choices, a doctor or a lawyer, and that was communicated to me very clearly. And when I said I wanted to be a teacher or an actor, I was told no. And then I found a loophole. I said, wait a minute. But if I'm a college professor, then I'm a teacher, but they would call me, doctor, does that work?

Mitch Prinstein: Because I'll have a PhD and that I got a pass. So that was okay. So I was really steered very clearly into that. Yeah.

Srini: So in college, so did you, because it's funny, right? So you, when you know, we talk about high school and you're like, okay, whatever, it doesn't matter. Who cares? We get older.

Srini: We're like totally irrelevant. Who cares about high school now? Did you transcend the sort of nerdiness when you got to college or was that just something that's still continued? And how did this sort of desire to understand this affect your college expenses?

Mitch Prinstein: I went to college at a time when there was no social media, there was, a different world, really.

Mitch Prinstein: It was back in the early nineties and the popularity dynamics still played out a little bit because there was a big Greek system. So the fraternity houses were clearly on different points in the status hierarchy. There were more and less cool and popular fraternities. And I was in a kind of middle of the road fraternities.

Mitch Prinstein: So it changed a little bit. Me. While I was in college, but really what I found was that I continued to really connect with my peers. And really then it was when I was introduced to psychological science and realized, wait a minute. So there's a way to quantify this and study this and we can actually measure popularity and really look at how it affects kids for decades later, that fascinated me.

Mitch Prinstein: By the time I was applying to grad school, I was yeah,

Srini: Let's do this before we enter the book. There's something that I'm going to have to, and I think this is highly relevant to the book. You're an educator. And when I talk to people like you and talk to the psychologist that I talked to who have ranged from, everybody you could possibly imagine.

Srini: The one thing I'm only shocked by is the fact that the things that they teach, the things that they write about the things that people you like. Are not taught in school, even though they're so relevant to our lives. There's no emotional intelligence class at Berkeley when I went to college. No, when I look at a high school guidance counselor, I won't say they don't really guide you on anything.

Srini: They're more like glorified schedule planner.

Mitch Prinstein: This kills me because, we have science to say that we're not going to be able to be successful in the workplace unless we know how to get along with other people. We're not going to be happy unless we know relationships, skills, everything that we're hoping for in our kids really brings us back to psych science.

Mitch Prinstein: And in particular, understanding the dynamics that make people likable. That's not the same thing as being popular but making them like. So I say the same thing. Why are we not teaching a social curriculum in school? Why are we spending time teaching things based on an educational curriculum that was really developed in the 18 hundreds?

Mitch Prinstein: To teach people how to do math on the side of a boat while they're collecting, a shipping or from the nearest port. Those are not the skills that we need to survive in 2020 and beyond. We need to teach people relationships as well as a variety of other pieces too. And it's just not covered.

Mitch Prinstein: It's one of the reasons why we sent our kids to where they are, because they do have an explicit social curriculum. And we believe that is a critical skill for kids to be. Yeah.

Srini: I do want to come back to it to talking to you about your kids when we get into it in the book when we're talking about parenting for popularity.

Srini: Sure. So the thing is when you see the fact that this is not in schools, and then you see things like school shootings and kids who are so depressed about school, as suicides are at an all time high at, for kids that are of such a young age as somebody who studies this, doesn't that really trouble.

Mitch Prinstein: Yeah, very much. Before we enter the kind of era that we're in now, where status is such a big deal. And we see some of that on social media, we already were missing the boat on a huge crisis. Suicide is the number two leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24.

Mitch Prinstein: And if you ask young people why they're attempting suicide overwhelmingly, they say it's because of interpersonal. Stress. So something going on there, social that's really stressing them out. So why are we not sinking every possible resource into really understanding that it's teaching kids how to succeed?

Mitch Prinstein: It just doesn't make any sense to me. Okay.

Srini: What do you think has to happen in order for that to change? Is it at a policy level? Is it at a government level? Who has the power to change that? Because when I've asked Seth Goden about education, he said the real people who have the power to change things are the parents.

Mitch Prinstein: I think that's partially true. I think the parents are incredibly powerful and really demanding what happens in their school. But of course, with common core now, and this is not an area that I know as much about as I'm sure your other guests, but I can say that there are too many schools right now that are trying to teach the test to really ensure federal funding.

Mitch Prinstein: Because they're able to demonstrate competence in areas that are really based on. In some way, in some cases, antiquated values of what we should be teaching kids in school. Personally, I think that psychological wellness, emotional wellness, overall, particularly succeeding with relationships is really important to be taught.

Mitch Prinstein: And we can't just ask parents to do that job. It has to be brought into the school. Yeah.

Srini: So how do you as a college professor, how do you see this playing out in the lives of your own students? Because obviously I think that even for me, there's this fantasy of, oh, now that I'm done with high school, I'm going to go to college and I'm going to be a stud I'll be cool.

Srini: Cause I can shed my, band geek past, but that turned out to be anything but true.

Mitch Prinstein: Yeah. You see them scarred by this, on the day they walk into class and you see it affecting the way that they go through college. And it's really painful. It's one of the reasons why I actually wrote the book because it's so important that we stop the cycle of high school over and over again.

Mitch Prinstein: But unless we're aware and talking about what happened to us in high school and really thinking about the way. Psych Tel psychological science tells us it influences what we perceive, how we behave, how we emotional respond to every social interaction and the decades that follow. We tend to repeat ourselves.

Mitch Prinstein: So you see these college kids. They get their hopes up. They're really excited. It's reset. They're socialized. We've actually done research on this at UNC chapel hill. 97% of people come into college saying, this is my social reset button is college. And within the course of a semester, they are exactly in the social position they were before, because no one's taught them.

Mitch Prinstein: No, one's talked about how it is that you can really change things. Can you imagine getting paid to do what you actually love doing? Tell us what those things are, and we'll tell you how you can do them in the army. Go on, get paid for doing what you love search. Do what you love.

Srini: Have you ever seen the movie van Wilder? Yes. So I always look at that movie and I remember thinking, damn it, why didn't this movie come out before I went to college? Because I thought to myself like, okay, if I come back now, that is exactly how it approached my social life. I would try to join as many clubs as possible because the funny thing is you look at it in retrospect, and you're like, wait a minute.

Srini: This is an environment in which people are completely open to meeting new people and there's opportunities galore. But, I think the thing for me, particularly at a place like Berkeley, And I don't know what the population is. The student population has at your university, but when you have these large public schools they're incredibly diverse yet.

Srini: Incredibly ethnocentric. Like I graduated, I was like, wait a minute. Like the overwhelming majority of my friends are Indian. I don't really know anybody. Who's

Mitch Prinstein: not. Yeah, it is amazing. Especially at large public schools. I went to school at Emory for my undergrad. So I had the opportunity to meet tons and tons of people that were by definition, going to be different from me because, I was a minority going to, I had come from a predominantly Jewish White Caucasian, middle-class long island community, and now it was thrust in the south.

Mitch Prinstein: There was much more racial, ethnic diversity. I was a minority as far as my religious backgrounds. So it was a bit different. The parts that I was so shocked by, when reading the research is. In some ways we are replicating our prior experiences, not just by what we volitionally choose to go and do join a club or something, but it's in the signals that we give almost subtly.

Mitch Prinstein: We create these. Fulfilling prophecies. Every time we walk into a room, I was shocked how much just our nonverbal signals, supersede anything that we're actually saying or doing or choosing because they already are communicating and leading to contagion and mood and reactions more than even what we say that to me.

Mitch Prinstein: Was the huge tragedy that there are kids that leave high school that just need a mirror and a coach, and a little bit of time thinking about the ways they interact socially to really be able to change things around.

Srini: Yeah. So let's get into the book because you open the book and you say two things that really struck me.

Srini: You said, what we've learned about popularity is something of a paradox it's fundamental to human nature to desire, to be more popular, but that doesn't mean being popular is always good for us. And then you said society has become fixated on status and all of its trappings, fame, wealth, and celebrity, even though the research suggests that this is exactly what we should be avoiding.

Srini: If we want to foster a culture of kindness and contentment. What do you think is driving this obsession with status? Obviously I am sure that social media plays a role because I think a lot about status. Particularly given that, what I do, I talk to people of high status all day long.

Mitch Prinstein: Yeah. I'm so glad that you brought that up. I think that social media is a symptom. It's not really the cause I don't think it's helping anything, but I think that there is a bigger issue that started. Some people talk about in the eighties when there's a shift in the way that the media started portraying news stories through people Where somehow we have become remarkably status oriented.

Mitch Prinstein: And by that, I mean that popularity comes in two flavors. You've got like ability people you want to spend time with it. They make you feel happy and good about yourself. And then you've got status, which is what we all remember from high school. It's that kind of, who's most powerful, influential, visible dominance.

Mitch Prinstein: And, in America, especially status is a big. Big currency for power and for voice and an influence. We have the market on that here in the states. Probably more than any other country. We are interested in individuating from others and being better and higher and having more, rather than being more community focused which is interesting in China they don't really have a word for popularity.

Mitch Prinstein: The way that we do in a way that matches at least our definition for it. I think that the more we have been able to work independently and the more that we have not needed to rely on other. Combined with a change in society, that's led to more showcasing of fame, celebrity wealth, and money.

Mitch Prinstein: So a lot of people target this, these, the intersection of these two forces, it's right there in the beginning of the 1980s. That's when our society. For the first time and tens of thousands of years made it an abrupt shift. We went from being a species that works together to at least in this country, a species that is interested in becoming more powerful than one.

Srini: Yeah, and that's D do you think there's a way to get back from this? Because it seems like we've pushed self-interest to the point of diminishing returns is something I've said over and over on the show. I feel in a lot of ways, like our government today is the literal embodiment of self-interest pushed to the point of diminishing recurrence.

Srini: Like I'm watching the Congress, trying to come to some sort of conclusion on this stimulus package. I'm like a bunch of kindergarteners could have done this more effectively.

Mitch Prinstein: Yeah. I. Government piece absolutely is, really exemplifying all that's bad with status right now, to an extreme and tragic and horrifying way.

Mitch Prinstein: I do have hope though. I do, because I think that. We've we're starting to reach maybe the, I hope the part on the pendulum swing, where we're going to start to go back and we're going to see what happens when we let status run a mock. What happens when we let people who are only interested in themselves and their Twitter followers and the ability to make as much money as possible, assume an unreasonable amount of power.

Mitch Prinstein: And how does it destroy the fabric of. And contentment and respect for one another and maybe we've gone too far. The pandemic also has said, okay, you want to all be individuals. I'm going to lock in your houses and you can't have any social interaction in groups anymore. And I think we are, these forces are making us suddenly, I hope crave community crave, connection, recognize the value and the importance of simple kindness.

Mitch Prinstein: And community in a way that I think it took a worldwide pandemic to show us I wrote the book before knowing anything about a pandemic I'm in some ways it's more relevant now than I ever had dissipated. Because really it's shown us. We have a choice to make. We can take that natural biological instinct towards caring.

Mitch Prinstein: What other people think about us. We could take it in one of two directions and here's what it looks like when we take it in the wrong direction. Let's really be mindful about how we spend our social energy now to do things that are going to bring us together more.

Srini: Yeah. It's funny when you talk about status, I can't help, but think of my first mentor, who was by far the person who had the most impact on my life.

Srini: And I always tell people this, I said, look like you can't, just judge somebody by the perception of how large their following is on social media. I'm like he had 150 followers on social media. He was six weeks into his project and he's hands down the most influential person that has ever come into my life.

Srini: And I've interviewed people who were far more famous or well-known.

Mitch Prinstein: Like ability is so important and it's not status. In fact, the about two thirds of those who have the highest levels of status, they're actually very disliked. Now, if you can add both, that's great, but the odds are statistically.

Mitch Prinstein: That status might come at some expense of like ability. Or at least it's hard to manage both at the same time, but likability is powerful. Just like you're saying it doesn't matter about your Twitter followers. It doesn't matter about your wealth or your power or your visibility. It matters when you can connect with somebody and help them to feel validated and included to help them know that you're on their side and to make the interaction enjoyable, like a.

Mitch Prinstein: Predicts our lifespan, the more likable we are, the longer we live controlling for every other possible factor that can be thought of the more likable we are, the less likely we are to have diseases or more likely ironically to, have a partnership that we're happy with for our children's who become more likable.

Mitch Prinstein: Go further in our jobs, we actually do end up making more money ability is what we should be caring, teaching thinking about. And it's what that 15 year old in high school that's really an unpopular nerd should be caring about the most because that's going to be the factor that's going to carry them through life in a really positive way.

Mitch Prinstein: Status doesn't mean.

Srini: Yeah. Let's talk about something you say at the very beginning of the book, you say popularity dynamics affect our careers, our success in meeting our goals, our personal and professional areas, relationships, and ultimately our happiness. And we were talking about this idea of, high school popularity effecting this.

Srini: The thing that came to my mind was what about the high school quarterback who peaks in high school? You see this particularly in places like small Texas towns, where these people basically are gods and celebrities for the entire time they're in high school. I, and I'm not just quoting this from watching Friday night lights.

Srini: I lived in a small Texas town, so I've seen it. And then they basically just go on to live, a fairly unremarkable life. Some of them become overweight. It's just, like I said, when I see I've seen pictures of people who were the most stellar athletes in high school, on Facebook, and I looking at them thinking, wow, what happened?

Mitch Prinstein: Yeah. The key to that sentence that you're reading is that it depends on which type of popularity you're talking about because likability is what predicts all of those great things. Status actually predicts increased risk for depression, anxiety, substance use, high status. People are likely to get hired and, but they are also likely more likely to be demoted or fired.

Mitch Prinstein: Then you're seeing that in the election. I think that what's interesting is that. We really focus on status. And we think of that as the only kind of popularity that matters. But exactly like you say, the research suggests that those people, that peak in high school, they tend to get so positively rewarded at a time when the brain really makes us crave those rewards.

Mitch Prinstein: Very often live the rest of their lives, still working from the same playbook. And usually after you graduated high school, that doesn't work. That's why they peaked when they were in high school, because by being aggressive towards others, or by focusing on status research shows that the romantic partners of those prior high school quarterbacks say that they're dissatisfied with their relationships and their friends say that they don't feel like they have close friendships with that former high school quarterback or that.

Srini: Okay. Let's get into what you call the sociometric groups. You talk about the accepted group, the controversial, the neglected, and the rejected. Can you expand on what those are and how they play a role?

Mitch Prinstein: Yeah. So these are, if we just look at like ability for getting status for a moment, these are the different groupings of how researchers have really thought about how we can categorize people as highly likable or not, and what they've done.

Mitch Prinstein: Yeah. And those groups it's really interesting because. What's always shocking to people is that whatever group you're in, if you walk to the school across town, or if you go to a new meeting as an adults, or if you go to a new workplace, the research says within three hours, you end up in the same group you were in and your prior context.

Mitch Prinstein: So it's really stable. We can change it, but because we never talk about those people, usually just repeat the same habits and they go back to where they were the exception. The rejects of kids are not the neglected kids are the ones that don't get nominated by their peers as either being liked most or liked least.

Mitch Prinstein: And people initially were really concerned about these folks, but they're actually okay if they're neglected because they're super socially anxious. That of course is a concern and there's good mental health treatment for that. But a lot of people are neglected just because they don't feel like they need to get a lot of it.

Mitch Prinstein: And that's perfectly fine that last group other than the average folks, which is about two thirds of us and average, Joe's very well, here are a group called controversials they're simultaneously loved and hated within their peer group. These kids are like the class clowns, there's not too many of them, but everyone can tell you exactly who they are.

Mitch Prinstein: They're actually the ones that tend to grow up fixated on stuff.

Srini: Wow. So one thing that, you're talking about prom, Queens and quarterbacks. So this is, maybe you have the research on this, that this isn't the, I always wonder. Does the hottest girl in school? No, she's the hottest girl in school.

Srini: And is that the way she sees herself? Like when you talk to people like this, what does the research show about?

Mitch Prinstein: Yeah. So one of the strongest predictors of status is physical attractiveness. And because there's so much focus on kind of that status that's associated with, being really physically attractive people usually know, but it's really interesting that high school reunion effect, when everyone comes back 10, 15, 20 years later and recognizes, wait a minute, you mean the entire time you all thought of it differently than I did.

Mitch Prinstein: That's a real effect. There are a couple of different ways that people have said that in the research. So there are really, self-critical somewhat depressive hot people, or also high status people that actually never recognized that they had that level of status. So that does happen sometimes.

Mitch Prinstein: Interestingly, you also sort the flip side, you get these kids that are really low in status. They also sends sometimes tend to be aggressive and they don't know they were that little. They think that they were one of the most popular kids in schools. So you see it in both ways.

Srini: It's funny cause I just, I remember one of my friends was telling me about going back to the high school reunion and, being the best looking guy there and getting to hookup with the girl who wouldn't give him the time of day, like that was a, to him, the highlight of his high school reunion.

Srini: And I just, I thought that was really funny. And I remember thinking, I was like, I wonder if that would happen to me if I went to a high school reunion now

Mitch Prinstein: it's so funny. I only went to one, but by the time I got there. Probably a foot taller than I was when I graduated high school. And I had gotten into working out and I didn't wear glasses anymore.

Mitch Prinstein: And I had this weird reaction, no one recognized me at all. I was standing with my high school friends and people went up to us and said, Hey, whatever happened to , they're like he's standing right next to you. And they're like what are you talking about? And they're like, he's, that's him.

Mitch Prinstein: That's Mitch Princeton. And it was really funny. I didn't look great or anything. I'm not saying that I just looked really different and At people, it was the same thing. Like suddenly all the kids that were really popular in high score to Hey, come out with us after the reunion, let's hang out.

Mitch Prinstein: I was thinking, this is just so odd. This is not, what is this based on. This is really peculiar and I can't erase my high school experiences and just. Change who I am. I'm, I might be unrecognizable in some ways, but I am still that person that, yeah, you didn't give the time of day to before.

Mitch Prinstein: And it was it just as a scientist geek. It was totally fascinating to me. It was really interesting how that plays out and people fall into those old habits of who hangs out with home even 10 years later.

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Srini: Wow. So I have one question somewhat as a different diversion from this, but I moved a lot as a kid. So my sister had radically different upbringings because my dad was my dad like yourself as a professor.

Srini: You know how that goes. Like he was basically doing postdoctoral work for almost 13 years after his PhD. So we move it, I think by the time. This was a sophomore in high school. I had been to probably 13 different schools. And to this day, like the high school I graduated from, I don't see it as my high school.

Srini: In fact, I've been in touch with people from my first high school, more than I ever have. To me it's just a blip on the radar. Like I told my parents, I'm like the only thing that makes Riverside home to me is the fact that you guys live here. I would give two shits. If you guys moved to the beach, in fact, I'd prefer it.

Srini: But what impact does that have on popularity and

Mitch Prinstein: So people move around a lot. Usually are more likely to either be accepted or neglected. And the reason why is because it's offering the same exact practice that we were talking about, that opportunity to try and start over.

Mitch Prinstein: And a lot of times when people move around a lot, they're trying to adopt like a little bit of a new identity. You're trying to experiment a little bit with how they act and how they behave. And they find that. It just takes very little change to make a dramatic difference and how it is that people interact with one another.

Mitch Prinstein: So a lot of times that will work out. Other times, people end up in that neglected group, if we're just talking about like ability levels here, because honestly they're just coming and going so much that they don't want to invest in the next place. Research would suggest and they instead figure it out.

Mitch Prinstein: I'm going to make my two or three friends and that's it. I'm going to be gone here maybe in a couple of years anyways. So I'm really only interested in. Some small coast connections, but there has been some work on that. And I think that people that are able to be that versatile and nimble tend to do really well as adults B is far as working in different workplaces and whatnot because they've had to practice those skills of re-introducing and starting reputations, a new and most of us, I was in the same school forever.

Mitch Prinstein: I didn't get a chance to change my reputation, even if I wanted to, everyone knew me since I was five. So there's just no opportunities to try a new it's

Srini: funny because I always say, I don't think it's a coincidence that the way I've chosen to build my careers is setting up a platform that essentially guarantees that I'll never stop meeting new people.

Mitch Prinstein: Yeah. I'm sure that you have self selected into that.

Srini: I really appreciated how you outlined these seven stages of status. I'd love for you to go over them because it's funny because I see this with authors. I see it with people who go from being, out of the spotlight to suddenly being in the spotlight.

Srini: I got a little dose of it, thanks to this Netflix documentary called Indian matchmaking. Fortunately, I had already had some experience with kind of being in the spotlight and I was like, okay, this is temporary. Just get over. Don't get too caught up in it, but you go through these seven stages.

Srini: Can you explain them to us? And, maybe talk about how we can not fall victim to

Mitch Prinstein: them. Yeah, in a nutshell. So we when people do get a certain level of status, there is something that is genuinely addictive about it. And I just mentioned that when I'm not using the term addictive as a broad expression, I literally mean that there is a part of our brains.

Mitch Prinstein: That is very sensitive to our ability to get powered and dominance. And it makes sense if you think about, 60,000 years ago, us, like other species literally had to be on a dominance hierarchy in order to have access to food and mating partners and whatnot. So this part of the brain is supercharged with dopamine and oxytocin receptors.

Mitch Prinstein: To make us really crave status. And it sits adjacent to other areas of the brain that make us outside of conscious awareness, because this is a subcortical area of the brain. So we don't think about it, but it makes us literally crave more of that feeling. So in fact, these regions of the brain are implicated in addiction and we do tend to get into.

Mitch Prinstein: I have some status and it is perfectly normal for people to have a dramatic reaction to that. And maybe even to start pursuing more and more opportunities to get more and more status, it never feels like enough in the same way that for addiction, it never feels like enough. What's really interesting.

Mitch Prinstein: That seems to happen very commonly with people that get high status though. Is that. Over time. They start to recognize that their interactions are based in large part on feeding that status. So they're having more and more interactions with people that make them feel good. But it's really based on just feeding that kind of addiction.

Mitch Prinstein: That sense of, I want more visibility. I want more power. I want more people smiling at me and nodding and agreeing and wanting to be like, yeah, And they start to develop a bit of mistrust of maybe these people only like me because of the reputation that I have. Maybe they only like my status rather than they like me.

Mitch Prinstein: And in fact, I'm too concerned about showing my real self to. Because it might have a status consequence. So people with high status will often say that over time, they become a little bit more and more sheltered to the point where they don't feel like the status is based on who they really are. And they feel quite lonely, but no one really knows who they really are.

Mitch Prinstein: And if someone tries to get to know them, Might not trust it. That's for genuine, motives. They say they're just trying to get at me because I have power and status now. And ironically, these people that are really high in status, what they really want more than anything is they want likeability.

Mitch Prinstein: They want people to genuinely connect with them and enjoy spending time with them, for who they are. So it's ironic twist. We're all wanting status. They're wanting like. It's

Srini: funny because I've seen this play out in my own life. W when this matchmaking documentary came out, I got flooded with messages from random women.

Srini: I'd never met. And I was like, okay, wait a minute. You liked me. Cause you saw me on this thing. You don't know what I'm actually like, you were doing. The entirety of who I am based on 15 minutes. And trust me, I'm probably going to disappoint you. I haven't, I reached a point where I literally had to stop asking women who would go on dates with me to, like I had to say, please, I really would appreciate it.

Srini: If you didn't read my books or listen to the podcast before I actually have gotten to know you, because you're going to see me through a different lens. You're going to see me at my best. When in reality, that's me for an

Mitch Prinstein: hour a day. No. And it sounds like you, you relate to the idea that yeah, there's, there is a real you want to be accepted for who you really are, not the part that you're able to edit or curate, or it gave you the best lighting or whatever it may be.

Mitch Prinstein: Who doesn't want to be liked for who they really are, but that becomes hard when you have.

Srini: It's funny. Cause I even, just as a final thought on this I remember writing about this today. I remember it being an instant. You just, people are into all sorts of weird new age shit.

Srini: No offense to those units. Anitas I was there for three years, but I remember I got matched on Bumble with a girl on a dating app and she, I think she saw my TEDx talking. I think she was expecting the Indian Tony Robbins. And instead she gets me and Carrie am this sarcastic guy who is unfiltered and.

Srini: She channeled dead people. That was her thing. And I was like, yeah, this is work. But that was just a perfect example to me, of somebody looking at you through the lens of what they see as opposed to the reality of who you are.

Mitch Prinstein: Absolutely. And I think, people are attracted to set us in part because they also want status.

Mitch Prinstein: And just being adjacent to status actually affects that same part of the brain that I was talking to. So even just vicariously experiencing it is enough to get your own dopamine going. So there's a remark of I and not to be totally biologically reductionist, but there is a really powerful force that is making us very socially aware and guided by our social experiences.

Mitch Prinstein: All the more reason why, we have to know what's going on and work around it or with it, or it's going to control.

Srini: Yeah. So when you talk about high school legacy, you say the basis for what we see, how we act and what we do all day every day is in large part, a function of our high school popularity.

Srini: Those old foundational memories are referenced again and again, as our brains help us get through the day. Now you talk about two concepts, rejection, sensitivity, bias, and hostile attribution bias. Can you expand on those for our listeners? And then. You finally finished this by saying we're not doomed to be dominated by our past and we can override it.

Srini: So let's talk about how to do that, but I'd like to do it in the context of rejection, sensitivity, and hostile attribution bias.

Mitch Prinstein: Yeah, sure. When you're walking around the day and someone waves at you or you get into a Lyft or an Uber and talk with the driver, you would think that what's going on is that your brain is spending a lot of time processing what's happening in the here and now.

Mitch Prinstein: And it's taking in all the stimulation right in front of you in order to respond to it and process it and know what to say back. So surprisingly, that's not all that's happening. When people are put into an FMRI and simulated kinds of interactions, that there's a lot of the area of the brain that taps into old autobiographical memories.

Mitch Prinstein: That's really playing a role too, because what's happening is. We're holding up the present against a filter that was traded by our past. So we're not actually seeing the world as it really is. We're seeing the world through our own personal lenses, our own filters in a way. Then the time that this process really starts developing is when our brain starts becoming a really mature brains.

Mitch Prinstein: That's in out of essence. So while you're walking into high school hallways feeling popular or not you are developing. And the filters that you mentioned, there are a couple of them. And as you say, a hostile attribution bias filter. So I should say we all have some sort of a filter, but these two are particularly.

Mitch Prinstein: Hostile attribution bias is when something happens that most people would not see as particularly aggressive or hostile or mean, but some people see the world through those mean colored glasses and say, whoa, that person that just bumped into me, they were trying to. Intimidate me where they were trying to do something mean, or that person who raised their hand and said something that I just said they were trying to diminish my contribution.

Mitch Prinstein: Now obviously all these things do really happen. Sometimes people are trying to intimidate you or do say something that you've just said. But the idea here is that with the bias is that it might be happening at a times that the vast majority of others would see it differently. And what's really interesting is.

Mitch Prinstein: It doesn't just affect what we think, but in psychology, we have great evidence to say that if that's the way you interpret a social situation, that's going to affect what it is. You're hoping to get out of that situation. What you deliberate saying back or doing back even at a super rapid level and how you actually respond.

Mitch Prinstein: And this is how we recreate our high school over and over, because someone bumps into you. You're filtering that through the times that you were pushed up against the locker in ninth grade and you respond as if someone was just really aggressive. Once that happens, they think what are you getting at?

Mitch Prinstein: What are you making such a big deal about? And then you actually end up getting rejected because you responded so dramatically. And it recreates our experience. Rejection sensitivity is not about kind of hostility. Per se, but it's more the expectation that you'll be rejected. So you text somebody, you don't see the three little dots back right away, 10 minutes pass an hour, pass, you start thinking they're blowing me off.

Mitch Prinstein: Why aren't they responding to me? You reread your texts. Why did I say something weird? Was that on, your show? It's other people. Did I say something when you're there? That again, we all have done that once in a while, but a pattern of doing this over and over really reflects this rejection.

Mitch Prinstein: You're looking at the world through this depressed.

Srini: Yeah I've done. It's funny. The reason I laughed is because I literally have had that experience so many times, even very recently, I was dating a girl. Things didn't work out with her, but I remember there was a day when I didn't get a text back from her regarding coming and having dinner with us.

Srini: And the whole day I obsessed about it with my roommate. And he said, just do the opposite of what you would normally do, which is, freak out or try to respond to this. And at the end of the day, I got the response and I was like, okay, I'm in, I'm out of my mind. How do we overwrite this?

Srini: Like, how do we get now? Do we let go of this insanity that, that tends to just make us all crazy?

Mitch Prinstein: Okay. So here's the deal. We talked about two filters. I want to make really clear that we all have one of these filters. In fact, people that were super popular all through high school, they have a filter of overestimating poppy.

Mitch Prinstein: Positivity and success at times when they should be maybe picking up on some cues that they've heard some feelings or that they're headed towards a dead end. So we all have a filter. It might've served us really well at some point because that kid that got rejected every single day and pushed up against the lockers, it's good that he has that filter because the next time someone looks like they're about to push him.

Mitch Prinstein: He knew to, to watch out and get out of the way. So these are adaptive. Most of them. But the kinds of that you bring up can become maladaptive because we use them too much. So the first step is we have to figure out what's your filter? What is it? When you're about to go to a dinner party or you're about to go to a club or something like that.

Mitch Prinstein: What's the first thought that you have no, one's going to ask for my number or I'm not going to be able to get anyone's number, or I'm sure that everyone there is going to be better looking than me, what are those immediate thoughts that we have in those social situations? And once we recognize that we have to manually over.

Mitch Prinstein: So that means that you're going to have to figure out how do I see past the filter? And it could be a variety of ways. One is you could literally live stream kind of your reactions with the person you're with and say, Hey, does it seem like everyone here is arrogant saying no, actually I don't see that at all.

Mitch Prinstein: And be like, okay, I'm probably totally focusing on the wrong signals, or wait a minute. Did that person seem like they were blowing me off because that seemed really dismissive. So silence. We also have to look to try and find counter evidence. One study was so fascinating. They showed the same movie to so many different people.

Mitch Prinstein: The people who had experiences of rejection, they literally missed things in the movie that were positive and they reported the movie had way more negative scenes. The people who had positive social experiences had just the opposite. We really are missing things right. In our environment. We have to take a moment to say, okay, wait a minute.

Mitch Prinstein: This party feels horrible. Just interaction feels bad. Let me find data. Find evidence to the opposite of what I'm assuming right now. Maybe you won't. But a lot of times people do. And say, wait a minute. Actually, there were two people that asked for my number before or something like that. I forgot about that.

Mitch Prinstein: I accentuated the negative rather than the positive. And then we have to try new behaviors and say, okay, look, maybe I'm doing something. It's eliciting that a little bit. Let me try something else. I usually stand here, say nothing. Let me go start a conversation and change my pattern. These exact things are like, people literally re recognize, oh my God, I've been wearing these glasses for decades.

Mitch Prinstein: And once I started making even the most subtle adjustments, I found my niche and I'm feeling much better, but again, we never talk about this stuff. So people tend to just go to every party and every relationship and they just repeat.

Srini: Let's talk about social media in particular, you said for most of us, social media is used to feel a small boost every now and then that's not so bad if we leverage our use of social media in ways that would make us likable, at least as often as we seek recognition, but somebody tells me, yeah.

Srini: We don't actually do it. As often, in fact, most of the time people are basically putting stuff on social media to seek recognition. So it's oh, how many hearts did this latest picture? Get how many likes did my latest status update yet? So when you guide people on how to use this stuff, because it's very prevalent in our lives.

Srini: I think that the Cal Newport approach of zero social media. While admirable. I don't necessarily think, especially when you're in a pandemic is realistic for everybody. I've tried to abide by it largely, but I still find myself on social. How do we make that shift from using it to seek recognition?

Srini: So all.

Mitch Prinstein: Yeah. We're playing with fire here when we're going online, because those oxytocin and dopamine receptors are lighting up so much when we go on there and this is if you've seen the social dilemma, this is not an accident, right? When you log on the first thing that you see is how many notifications and likes and retweets or whatever it may be.

Mitch Prinstein: It's right there. Hard to find. And it's done to create that addictive quality and people are literally, especially teens today. They're physically having a hard time putting it away. So I think when we're talking about anything, that's addictive, we talk about moderation and that same thing applies here for social media.

Mitch Prinstein: Look, if you're going to go on and you're going to play with something that you know is activating circuits that are very addictive, you got to be careful in the way that you're doing it. People these days are talking a lot about nine social media use. So just before you pick up that phone to look at your notifications, think why am I going on?

Mitch Prinstein: What is my goal right now? And develop new habits? Am I feeling like I need a little bit of a burst and say, I just want to see that everyone likes my latest picture, my latest selfie. All right, that's fine. But then put a time on it and say, I got. And in 30 seconds, I got to put it down. And if you're going on, for other reasons I genuinely want to express my opinion on something, or I want to connect with a friend or I want to get information about someone that I have a crush on, whatever it might be.

Mitch Prinstein: Stay good. Stay faithful to that goal. And when all the alerts start popping up to make you stay on longer, resist them and recognize you're being manipulated. That's not why you went on right now. Don't go down the rabbit hole of checking and retweet it and posting whatever you do just to keep on getting more and more.

Mitch Prinstein: So that mindful use is so important because we know that there are forces trying to get us to stay on as long as.

Srini: So on a sort of side note, has your research shown anything about dating apps? Particularly because all you're doing is swiping it's just another version of the same thing as.

Mitch Prinstein: Yeah, it is. The difference with Dean Epson. I am not familiar with research on that, but the difference in dating apps is the entire purpose of them is extensively. To try and force you into a one-on-one really a one-on-one communication. And in that way it's a little bit better than social media, which is trying to force you to broadcast broader and abroad.

Mitch Prinstein: In fact, it's trying to get you to force you into an in-person interaction, which is. That's why we need a lot more of that.

Srini: Let's talk about parenting in particular, you brought up your own kids at the beginning. And one of the things you said is status seeking is only advisable.

Srini: If you want that child to ultimately be at greater risk for over dependency on others, risky behavior, relationship problems, and unhappiness. And what's interesting is this status seeking occurs in different forms. My parents were never saying, oh, we want you to go become the star quarterback of the high school football team, but they sure as hell wanted me to have the status of.

Srini: Really good grades.

Mitch Prinstein: Yeah, absolutely. In grades that doesn't get you very high status among peers in high school. So that's a different kind of a different kind of status. It was amazing to me. The book came out and I was suddenly all over the country, talking at schools with parents and corporations and whatnot.

Mitch Prinstein: And some communities said of course we would never. When our kids to have high status and we would never push them towards that. We're pushing them towards things like grades and responsible, community engagement, whatever, just like you're saying. And some groups said, oh my God, you would not believe how aggressively the people in our community are trying to get their kids to become the prom queen or trying to get them to get more followers.

Mitch Prinstein: They're working, you think of the. Cheerleaders mom, right? Like that kind of stuff going on. Way more than I even realized that it was happening and some parts of the country, because there are some people who have confused, like ability and status and think, look, I want my kid to be those popular and we're competitive and we're at the extreme on everything else.

Mitch Prinstein: So why wouldn't I push my kids to be the most on this variable as well, but yeah, just as that. Indicates, that's a horrible idea. That's pushing your kid into a risk factor. We would never hand our kids, the tools needed to give them a risk for cancer or for depression. But when we push them to have a status, or even when we subtly just reward them by saying, oh, wow, you got a lot of invites, to that party.

Mitch Prinstein: Good for you. You got the most inviting. We're subtly communicating that we value status and we're pushing them to care about it more than we should. We have to be really careful. My wife does a really good job at those more than I do. But I really appreciate that almost every single day when picking up the kids or when we're sitting at the dinner table, the conversation comes around to, and my kids are young.

Mitch Prinstein: They're eight and 10, but the conversation comes around to, what did you do to help other people feel included? What are ways that you helped other kids feel like their opinion was important and that's fantastic. I think that's what we should be communicating. You will please mom and dad, or, whoever your parents may be, you will please them by demonstrating ways in which you helped others feel connected and included and valued.

Mitch Prinstein: So we're trying. Directly fight against all of the forces out there that are going to be telling them that their self-worth is measured and follower counts.

Srini: I've asked anybody who is a psychologist or has your background a similar question to this, but as somebody with your background, are you immune to all the bullshit that other parents have to deal with?

Srini: Just because you have this.

Mitch Prinstein: No, I think it's just the opposite. Like I I think to some extent, yeah, maybe can read out what's the advice that's worth listening to and nod and when to get worried or not, but as a clinical child psychologist, During my years of working with patients so much, I've seen the most difficult circumstances.

Mitch Prinstein: I've seen kids that are suffering the most. So I tend to get a little bit over concerned whenever I see anything that looks like it might be hitting my kids down the wrong path, because I think, oh my God, I know what this could lead to 20 years from now. And I imagine them, in the worst of distress.

Mitch Prinstein: And I think, I wish I didn't. I wish I had never seen that stuff because now I know what I'm scared of more. Yeah, so yeah, it's a blessing and a curse.

Srini: Okay. So I have one other question around parenting, and this is particularly because I have Indian parents and to this day, I think that the source of my Mo the bane of my mother's existence is the fact that I'm still single.

Srini: And, my sister got married. I think that gave her some temporary relief. The more I thought about, I was like, wait a minute. What does this have to do with, our happiness, this is all about status in our community. We're like, I'm an outcast in my community for this very reason.

Srini: And so I wonder, one, do you see this playing out in older generations where parents own status is basically something they are trying to elevate through their children. And how do we deal with that? Cause I feel like that largely is a big thing in Indian communities, because I always say it's nobody cares about the, the marriage, all they care about is having a wedding to go to and then they'll find somebody else to gospel about a few weeks.

Mitch Prinstein: Yeah, I think that, I think the generation, the older generation now who, the people who are now in the elderly group I think they cared about set us a little bit less than we do now, but it was still there for sure. It's funny. I I proposed to my wife before the Jewish high holidays and no, sorry.

Mitch Prinstein: Right after the Jewish high holidays and And when I told my mom that, we had gotten engaged. She said, oh, hi, if you had done it a couple of weeks earlier, she could have showed the rings, everyone at temple during the holidays. And I thought, why does that matter? What, why are you saying that?

Mitch Prinstein: It really speaks to your point that for her. Yeah, what's important is that once they're engaged, that's a marker of status, and you need to show the ring, to everybody in your community. That was, it was just like what you're saying. And it dawned on me yeah.

Mitch Prinstein: That she's interested in status too. And getting that moments of being the center of attention and whatever. Yeah. It's look, it's natural human behavior. I don't care. There are some people who exhibit really interesting symptoms where they might be feeling particularly just connected to the social world.

Mitch Prinstein: But for the vast majority of us, we are biologically programmed and evolutionarily programmed to care what other people think of us. And we're gonna seek status every once in awhile. The thing that I really hope people recognize is that can go way awry and it can go way out of check, especially today, more than ever.

Mitch Prinstein: And unless we re unless we know what's happening, unless we can take control of it. That's what I'm hoping people really get from. This is that you don't have to be a set of seeker and you can make another choice. You can use that instinct and use it for relationships rather than trying to pump yourself up and seem better than everyone else.

Srini: Wow. Wow. This has been absolutely fascinating. So I have one final question for you, which is how we finish all of our interviews at the end of sustainable creative. What do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable?

Mitch Prinstein: What do I think it is that makes somebody unmistakable. I think somebody who is living life according to their own values.

Mitch Prinstein: I think some, somebody who is consistent with what they really care about and how they spend their time and their energy and their focus. I think that if we don't get swept up in so many of the things that are trying to capture our attention and get us excited and get us motivate. Towards things we actually don't care about, but we instead wake up every day with a pretty clear goal of what's important to us.

Mitch Prinstein: And we can look back on the end of the day and say, that's where I dedicated my energy. I think that helps us live lives that we can be proud of, that we can feel like was worth living. I think that would make us feel undecided.

Srini: Amazing. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and share your insights and wisdom with our listeners.

Srini: Where can people find out more about you, your work, the book, and everything else that you're

Mitch Prinstein: up to. Thanks so much. Yeah, I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on the book is called popular and my name is Mitch Princeton and the book's available everywhere. And I have a

Mitch Prinstein: That gives more information on the book as well. And thank you so much for having me. This has been really fun.

Srini: Absolutely. And for everyone listening, we will wrap the show with that.

Mitch PrinsteinProfile Photo

Mitch Prinstein

Mitch Prinstein is the John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, and accepts doctoral students from both the Clinical Psychology Program and the Developmental Psychology Program. Mitch’s research uses a developmental psychopathology framework to understand how adolescents’ interpersonal experiences, particularly among peers, are associated with depression, self-injury, and health risk behaviors.