Likable People Finish First

What does it mean to be Likable

  • Likability and status seeking are sources of popularity
  • High status students, although popular, may not be liked
  • Likability is positively correlated with success and health
  • High status students and least well-liked students were found to have similar negative behaviors


  • Among the many challenges that students constantly face is that of their social standing. Popularity is an omnipresent matter in the lives of students. Mitch Prinstein, director of clinical psychology and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has examined the role of likability in student’s popularity. Prinstein compares the role of likability to status in his upcoming book “Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World” and an online course. In a recent article, Sarah Maslin Nir of the New York Times synopsizes Prinstein’s findings on likability’s role in popularity and how it helps students later in life.

    The Likables vs. The Status Seekers

    In his research, Dr. Prinstein identifies two categories of popularity among students: those who are likable and those who seek status.

    “The likables’ plays-well-with-others qualities cement schoolyard friendships, jump-start interpersonal skills and, when cultivated early, are employed ever after in business and even romance. Then there’s the kind of popularity that emerges in adolescence: status born of power and even notorious behavior (Nir, 2017).”

    Status Seekers Face Same Negative Consequences as the Least Liked
    Using surveys from 235 student participants, Dr. Prinstein assessed the two types of popularity by comparing scores on the least liked, the most liked, and of the highest status. We found that the least well-liked teens had become more aggressive over time toward their classmates. But so had those who were high in status. It was a nice demonstration that while likability can lead to healthy adjustment, high status has just the opposite effect on us.

    This was not the only negative consequence Dr. Prinstein found to be shared by those of high status and the least liked.

    “Those who were highest in status in high school, as well as those least liked in elementary school, are ‘most likely to engage in dangerous and risky behavior,’ like smoking cigarettes and using drugs (Nir, 2017).”

    Likability & Positive Outcomes
    On the contrary, Dr. Prinstein found that the qualities shared by the well-liked students gave them an advantage in various aspects later in life.

    “… The qualities that made the neighbors want you on a play date – sharing, kindness, openness – carry over to later years and make you better able to relate and connect with others (Nir, 2017).”

    Upon analysis of both his work and the research of others, Prinstein came to an important conclusion about the importance of likability:

    “Not only does likability correlate to positive life outcomes, but it is also responsible, he said, for those outcomes, too. ‘Being liked creates opportunities for learning and for new kinds of life experiences that help somebody gain an advantage (Nir, 2017).’”

    Likability and Success Later in Life

    Dr. Prinstein’s conclusions are supported by a library of material linking likability to advantages in various aspects of life. In their book Axis of Influence: How Credibility and Likeability Intersect to Drive Success authors Michael Lovas and Pam Holloway provide examples of the various “positive life outcomes” of likability. For instance, in the workplace, likability often trumps competence in making someone a desirable candidate to work with and even makes workers more likely to be endorsed for early promotions and substantial raises (Lovas & Holloway, 2009, p.6). Similarly, likability is crucial for those running for public office, as it has been the only consistent prognosticator of the final election result in every election between 1960 and 2012 (Lovas & Holloway, 2009, p. 7). Likable people are even more likely to receive better health care as doctors spend more time with and provide superior care to patients they like (Lovas & Holloway, 2009, p.8).

    Although most students are not busy thinking about how they will get a competitive advantage in their future workplace, it is important to note the impact of likability throughout their lives. The most basic qualities exhibited by children who make for good play dates – “sharing, kindness, and openness” – will help them become popular adolescents and ultimately successful, healthy adults.

    Lovas, M., & Holloway, P. (2009). Axis of influence: how credibility & likeability intersect to drive success. Garden City, NY: Morgan James Publ.

    Nir, S. M. (2017, April 07). Be Nice — You Won’t Finish Last. Retrieved April 18, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/07/education/edlife/be-nice-you-wont-finish-last.html


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