It’s Lonely at the Top: Adolescent Students’ Peer-perceived Popularity and Self-perceived Social Contentment

  • Sharlyn M. FergusonEmail author
  • Allison M. RyanEmail author
Empirical Research


Popularity is highly desired among youth, often more so than academic achievement or friendship. Recent evidence suggests being known as “popular” among peers (perceived popularity) may be more detrimental during adolescence than being widely well-liked (sociometric popularity). Thus, this study sought to better understand how two dimensions of popularity (perceived and sociometric) may contribute to adolescents’ own perceptions of satisfaction and happiness regarding their social life at school, and hypothesized that “being popular” would have a more complex (and curvilinear) association with adolescents’ social contentment than previously considered by linear models. Adolescents’ peer popularity and self-perceived social contentment were examined as both linear and curvilinear associations along each status continuum in a series of hierarchical regressions. Participants were 767 7th-grade students from two middle schools in the Midwest (52% female, 46% White, 45% African American). Perceived and sociometric popularity were assessed via peer nominations (“most popular” and “liked the most”, respectively). Self-reported social satisfaction, best friendship quality, social self-concept, and school belonging were assessed as aspects of social contentment. The results indicated that both high and low levels of perceived popularity, as well as high and low levels of sociometric popularity, predicted lower perceptions of social satisfaction, poorer best friendship quality, and lower social self-concept than youth with moderate levels of either status. Implications to promote adolescents’ psychosocial well-being by targeting popularity’s disproportionate desirability among youth are discussed.


Adolescence Popularity Loneliness Social satisfaction Curvilinear Social contentment 


Authors’ Contributions

S.M.F. conceived the study, designed the study, conducted the statistical analyses, drafted the manuscript and revised the manuscript; A.M.R. secured IRB, collected the data, participated in the design and coordination of the study and revised the manuscript critically for intellectual content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Data Sharing and Declaration

This manuscript’s data will not be deposited.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Combined Program in Education and PsychologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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