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Students in High-Achieving Schools: Perils of Pressures to Be “Standouts”


Youth in high-achieving schools (HASs) are now declared to be an “at-risk group,” largely because of strong, ongoing pressures to achieve. In this study, we sought to disentangle processes that might underlie how achievement pressures might exacerbate distress, considering five dimensions conceptually important in HAS settings: feelings of envy, comparisons with others on social media, negative feedback from others, the ability to maintain supportive friendships with peers, and overall time pressures. Also included were two potential confounds: time spent on social media and attachment to parents. Across three different HAS samples (total N = 1608), these dimensions were examined in relation to anxious-depressed, withdrawn-depressed, and somatic symptoms, and rule-breaking behaviors using multivariate analyses conducted separately by school and gender. Results revealed that associations between social comparisons and internalizing symptoms were consistent in all subgroups, with robust effect sizes throughout. Additionally, negative feedback on social media was linked with rule-breaking behavior in five out of six subgroups. Results indicated the critical value of targeting social comparisons, in particular, followed by negative feedback on social media in future interventions aimed at fostering resilient adaptation among HAS youth.

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The authors gratefully acknowledge support provided by Authentic Connections.

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Correspondence to Suniya S. Luthar.

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Luthar, S.S., Suh, B.C., Ebbert, A.M. et al. Students in High-Achieving Schools: Perils of Pressures to Be “Standouts”. ADV RES SCI 1, 135–147 (2020).

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