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Teachers Can Control Who the Cool Kids Are

Children nestled in the center of the classroom are deemed the coolest

(Photo: Deborah Jaffe/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Teachers inadvertently influence the popularity of their students—not by picking favorites or overpraising the most academically oriented kids, but by assigning seats. According to new research, kids who sit on the fringes of the classroom's seat block are liked less by the peers both at the beginning of the semester—when they presumably do not know one another—and later on in the school year, after they've had a chance to socialize, Research Digest reports

The researchers surveyed more than 300 elementary students in 27 Dutch schools. They asked each child to rank how much he or she liked every other child in the classroom and whether each of those kids were popular or not. They quizzed the kids about a month into the school year as well as at the beginning of the second semester, Research Digest describes. Then, they compared those ratings to see how opinions had changed. 

Kids who sat on the fringes of the classroom consistently ranked lower in likability and popularity than those in the center. However, kids also tended to rank the people sitting around them as more likeable and popular—probably explaining why those on the edges, who have the least number of people sitting around them, scored the lowest, Research Digest explains. These findings harken back to two psychological staples: the fact that, the more we interact with a person, the more we tend to like them, and something called the "mere exposure effect," in which familiarity leads to positive feelings, Research Digest explains. 

The researchers point out that teachers should be cognizant of this effect when they make their seating chart. Of course, not all teachers randomly assign kids their seats. Some use the straight-forward method of alphabetical order. This means that kids with last names that begin with "A" or "Z" might be doomed to a life of alphabetized seat assigned unpopularity, at least for their school years. A simple solution, however, would just be to mix the seating chart up every few weeks. 

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