The Psychology of High School Cliques
Walking through the typical middle school hallway, you pointedly avoid the jocks and question the emos’ fashion style while the wealthy white girls in their petticoats scoff at you. The kids within these groups undoubtedly belong, utilizing a certain type of lingo to communicate or dressing a specific way to finally earn their sense of belonging. Essentially, if you are not finding yourself associating with any cliques, unable to find your niche within the high school hierarchy, you’re facing social suicide.
Cliques are small, exclusive, often stereotypical groups of people joined by common interests.
They are groups of friends that do not allow others to join. A ring leader or two will take charge and decide who is a part of the clique or not. In a study conducted by the Stage of Life, 40.81% of students attending junior high through college have specifically gone out of their way to make someone feel inferior. Many kids that become a part of a clique show changes in their own behavior after initially joining too. This includes but isn’t limited to drinking, smoking and sexual behavior.
There are a few theories that address the question of why young people choose to form cliques. Students who share similar identities, interests, and cultural backgrounds seek out the kinds of groups to which they feel a sense of belonging. This can be explained by the Cultural Identity Theory, a study formed and first conducted by Myron Lustig on how people arrange themselves into groups according to their preferences and personal experiences. Associations and dynamics within groups and the way an individual refers to oneself evolve in reference to the current social and political atmosphere. Within the microsystem of the school, this can be observed by the way student cliques share mutual experiences and identities in order to form these exclusive groups.
The Social Dominance Theory should also be taken into consideration, as it studies the unspoken hierarchies present within groups based on different traits. These internal rankings within groups are based on gender, race, age, economic status, and other characteristics. Some students may even feel inclined to move up socially by forcing themselves to do things they normally wouldn’t. This may include sidling up to the clique “leader” or acting rude and discriminatingly to peers. These two theories explain the intricate dynamic that occurs within these school cliques that allows kids to hail influence over their peers. They also explain the reason why a number of kids are left out of some groups.
About one tenth of students are left to the bottom of this social hierarchy, leaving feelings of loneliness to fester and contributing to lower senses of self-esteem, feelings of rejection from others their age, or the fear that they have nothing valuable to offer. These feelings lead to a sense of disconnection from the world, causing alienated students to possibly isolate themselves further from others. Eventually, as this feeling persists into the rest of primary school, outcasts may experience bullying by those within cliques.
But being the head of a clique and being the “most popular” in your class heeds its own set of consequences. Popularity is considered to be equivalent to gaining respect from peers, but this is not necessarily true. It’s found that only nine percent of popular kids are liked by the rest of their peers, proving that popularity can lead to resentment. The pressure of social acceptance can also lead to some feeling competitive, depressed, anxious and disconnected from others.
All of the negative feelings that cliques cause not only for others but also for their own members prove that these segmentations within the high school scene are inconvenient and dreadful. They are formidable and negatively impact the identities and decision-making capabilities of the kids involved. Future actions and social interactions of kids in cliques will be based on their misconceptions of others that were not similar to them in primary school. Kids will find personal ways to navigate the social environment within school, but it is doubtful that the clique will ever dissipate from primary school hallways.
Julia Batista is a second-year IMC major who worked hard for her seat at the Cool Kids Table. They can be reached at [email protected].