A report published in December 2014 by researchers at Stanford University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill indicates that teenagers are not only a mystery to their parents, but curiously also to themselves. Indeed, it is a study that would have been of great interest to John Hughes who mined the vast teenage wasteland in popular films like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink. The researchers studied the behaviors and perceptions of 235 high school sophomores, breaking them down into five reputation-based groups (coincidentally, the ones that Hughes captured so well in The Breakfast Club): the jocks, the populars, the burnouts, the geeks (or brainy kids), and independents (not belonging in any identifiable group). Geoffrey Cohen, one of the researchers, explained the outcome of the study: “When [teenagers] are judging the popular crowd, the jocks, the burnouts or the brainy kids at school, the gist is that students in these crowds are misperceived… They tend to misperceive what their peers are doing. So they are conforming to norms based not on reality but on stereotypes.” In other words, teenagers are not the best judge of character (no surprise to their parents); they incorrectly over-estimate the behaviors of their peers, and thus conform to nonexistent social norms unnecessarily. Hashtag wake-up-call. For example, burnouts actually smoked 1-3 cigarettes per day, but their peers believed they smoked an entire pack a day. The brainy kids, on the other hand, studied only half the time that their peers believed they did. The researchers found that the two most socially influential groups, the jocks and populars, reported levels of drug use and sexual behaviors that did not differ significantly from the levels of the other groups of teens. Thanks to this research we can correct the well-known marketing aphorism from “perception is reality” to “misperception is reality.” Coen adds: “[Thus] this quest for identity [emulating the so-called “cool kids”] can sometimes lead adolescents in the wrong direction.” Which might explain why so many unwittingly end up in after-school detention, members of the too-cool-for-school Breakfast Club.
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For further reading: http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=2014-45094-001