The secret to being popular and well liked as a child? Being fun, researchers say
Being fun is a serious matter because it imparts special benefits on children, a new study conducted by researchers at Florida Atlantic University in collaboration with Concordia University in Montreal, Canada has found.
The study has highlighted the importance of having fun, and what having, and being, fun means in a child’s social circles. Children who are well-liked and children who are popular enjoy tremendous advantages in the peer group – something that is widely acknowledged by academics after decades of research.
Children enjoy high status in the peer group and are well liked tend to be outgoing, assertive, prosocial, and academically competent; they are neither aggressive nor withdrawn. Children who are popular are outgoing, assertive, and prosocial or aggressive (or both); they too are not withdrawn.
Researchers were puzzled by the absence of “being fun” from these lists, saying it is a characteristic which is “conspicuously missing”, and “an omission that is odd when you consider how much time and energy children devote to having fun.”
To learn more, researchers undertook a study which examined whether children who are well-liked and children who are popular got that way by being fun to hang around with.
Data from children living in Florida and children living in Colombia, South America, examined the degree to which peer perceptions of being fun predict increases in being liked by classmates and being popular with classmates. Their findings are the first to directly tie perceptions of children who are fun with changes in peer status.
The results clearly point to the importance of being fun. Across a two-month period, children in middle childhood who were perceived by their peers as being someone who is fun to be around experienced an increase in the number of classmates who liked them and the number who rated them as popular.
Importantly, these associations remained after removing the contribution of variables known to contribute to peer status, such as prosocial behavior, leadership, physical attractiveness, fairness, athletic ability, disruptiveness, and aggression. Being well-liked and being popular also anticipated changes in classmate perceptions of a child as fun, suggesting that, in the eyes of peers, “fun begets status and status begets fun”.
Dr Brett Laursen, lead author of the study, said the work was novel, in that no research before it has “unambiguously measured peer perceptions of classmates who are fun” and no longitudinal studies have examined whether being fun uniquely anticipates subsequent changes in peer social status.
“The findings also are important because until now only prosocial behavior and leadership have been demonstrated to prospectively predict changes in both likeability and popularity,” he added.
While the researchers had good reason to believe that being fun would uniquely contribute to a child’s social status, researchers said that the benefits for children in engaging with fun peers go beyond the immediate rewards.
“Fun experiences provide positive stimulation that promotes creativity. Being fun can protect against rejection insofar as it raises the child’s worth to the group and minimises the prospect that others will habituate to the child’s presence,” Dr Laursen said.
When it comes to the characteristics of what makes a child fun, researchers said that some children who are fun are “undoubtedly equipped with a constellation of traits that combine to make them rewarding companions.”
Fun children, they said, are socially adept, and have high levels of social skills, as well as the capacity to view things from the point of view of another. Ego resilience, the ability to “roll with the punches” and surgency – a personality trait marked by cheerfulness, responsiveness, spontaneity, and sociability are also hallmarks of one who is fun.
“Well-liked children present few adjustment difficulties and tend to succeed where others do not,” Dr Laursen said. “Popularity is highly coveted by children and adolescents; many value it above being liked.”
This finding raises the possibility of a reputational halo effect. Age-mates assume that children with high social status have desirable attributes, which may turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy as high status children are given more opportunities to have fun and thereby hone their skills around others who are fun.
To read the work in full, please see here.