The influence of popular kids

Timothy Malacarne, visiting assistant professor of data science at Mount Holyoke College

By Christian Feuerstein

“If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?” is an evergreen query for frustrated parents, as it often seems as if popular middle- and high-schoolers dictate how cool kids should act, dress and behave. 

Timothy Malacarne, visiting assistant professor of data science in the sociology department, has recently published a study that disputes the power of popular kids, however. 

In an interview with The Atlantic, Malacarne says that this study indicates that the behaviors of students at the center of a high-school social network were no more influential than those of a randomly chosen peer when it came to predicting how likely any given student was to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. 

However, the power of cool kids might still be undimmed in other realms. Malacarne doesn’t know, for instance, if his analytical method would detect different patterns for different behaviors, such as what clothes students choose to wear. 

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