Anyone who has ever been unpopular, which we're thinking is approximately all of you, knows how unfair the system can seem -- it's all about looks and money and some indefinable coolness that some lucky bastards are just born with. Well, we have good news and bad news.
The good news is that there are some unexpected shortcuts that can make a person popular, which maybe isn't surprising, since the human brain works in some pretty freaky ways. The bad news is that they're just as stupid and arbitrary as the ones you already knew.
#5. Don't Do Favors for Others -- Make Them Do Favors for You (and Thank Them)
Quick! You have 24 hours to make an attractive guy or girl like you. Like maybe you're trapped in the plot of a romantic comedy or something. How do you go about it?
You and pretty much everyone else will immediately try the same tactic: Do something nice for them. That'll win their heart! Take care of some task you know they hate, bring them a cup of coffee they didn't ask for. There are millions of "nice guys" in the world who right now are doing little favors for pretty girls for this very reason -- if he does enough nice things for her, then she'll associate him with friendliness, trustworthiness, loyalty and pretty much everything a girl could ever want. And that may very well be true ... for a while, and provided she's looking for a dog.
"I have a better chance of humping her leg, and I'm neutered."
Studies show that if you really want people to like you as a person, you're actually better off ignoring their pleas of help and making them do favors for you instead ... and just remember to really go over the top in thanking them for it. It sounds crazy, but it has to do with how people don't like feeling that they owe you something, but like feeling that you owe them.
See, the problem with doing minor nice things for somebody is that they forget about it much faster than the person doing the favor. A few days later, the girl has long forgotten the coffee, and the guy quickly gets annoyed that she didn't appreciate it enough. A month later, he's all "BUT I GAVE YOU THAT COFFEE! You owe me at least a hug!" While the value of the gift decreases in the recipient's mind, it actually gets inflated in the giver's mind, until he's equating it with having fought a bear for her. Here it is in graph form:
So it actually drives a wedge between you; the innocent favor turns into kind of a power play. Which brings us to the weird, opposite corollary of this rule, and it comes courtesy of none other than Benjamin freakin' Franklin.
"Game recognizes game."
In fact, it's even called the Ben Franklin effect, after an offhanded quip he once made regarding the favorer/favoree relationship. It goes like this: If you can convince a person who doesn't really think much of you to do a favor for you -- even a small one -- this tricks him into suddenly believing that he now likes you. All you need to do is remember to thank him enough.
As we just established above, nobody likes feeling like they're indebted to somebody else, and this is the opposite -- it continually reminds the other person of how much you're in their debt. And science says that people love it. In one experiment, participants who were given money and then asked personally to give it back were more likely to like the researcher than those who got to keep the cash. Do you ever watch old episodes of Seinfeld and wonder how they put up with Kramer, who was always eating Jerry's food and borrowing stuff? This is why: The fact that he was always on the receiving end made him lovable.
#4. Be Rude, Mean and Selfish (in High School)
Everyone who has seen a movie about high school, or actually attended one, knows that most of the popular kids are also usually complete and utter dicks. It stands to reason: Being popular has a way of increasing your hat size, and the students who find themselves on top of the social ladder comprised of confused, hormone-addled kids can find it difficult to resist dropping things on the people below. It's just an unfortunate byproduct of that particular and particularly weird period in life -- it's not as if the popular kids are popular because they're nasty.
Or so you'd think. Several studies have indeed proven that the best way to gain popularity in high school is by acting like a total asshole.
Senior Quote: "I meant 'homo' as in 'retarded'."
In one study, researchers followed about 4,000 high schoolers and tracked their relationships, behavior and level on the social ladder. They found that as the kids rose up the ladder, so did their bullying of the others. And the curious thing was that the asshole kids just kept on rising despite their antics. So why do the other kids keep licking the boots of the people who keep kicking them with said boots?
If you went to high school, you already know the answer: Because acting like a dick is a sign of confidence. Picking on others makes you look like a leader. Society feeds us bully archetypes like Donald Trump and Gordon Ramsay as winners and entrepreneurial geniuses all the time. By extension of that logic, it's easy to view the big jock who spat in your water bottle as one, too.
"I can't believe I'm drinking the Brock Carter's spit."
However, there are popularity heights that even the most dickish quarterback or bitchiest cheerleader cannot reach. At the very top of the ladder, the level of bullying drops off completely. The absolute most popular kids don't bully at all, because they don't need to. Or rather, they're just far too narcissistic to care. It turns out that the most popular high schoolers are the ones so obsessed with their own selves, it's practically dripping off them. The other students mistake their aloof, entitled behavior as personal, innate charm and worship the ground under the narcissists' feet. Because if there's anything cooler than the guy who pulled your underwear up your ass, it's the one who was too busy staring into his locker mirror to even notice.
"I'm having a really good hair day."
#3. Wear Branded Clothing
Just to be clear, we're not saying that wearing expensive designer clothing makes people trust you or like you -- obviously dressing up makes an impression. No, the science says that just sticking a visible label on the clothes makes all the difference, and it's not in the way you'd expect.
For example, in one study, researchers made a lady go out into the mall and ask people to fill out her survey. On the day that she wore a Tommy Hilfiger sweater with a visible label, 54 percent of people helped her out. Not bad, right? Just wait -- on the second day, when she wore the same exact sweater with the label removed, only 13 percent of people took the survey. In another study, researchers who were wearing designer clothing collected twice as much in charitable donations as those who were wearing plain clothing. In another, subjects judged a job applicant in an interview as more worthy of the job, recommending a 9 percent higher salary for the one with the label. The label always won.
"Screw the interview. You're obviously chief surgeon material."
And it's not that the labels just make us think of the wearers as wealthy or stylish; it actually makes us trust them more as people. What the hell?
On one hand, the labels are doing exactly what the manufacturers hoped they would, only to a much greater (and crazier) degree: We're told that the brand is high quality, so the man who knows to buy it must have great judgment. But it's a trap we fall into due to evolution.
The problem is that for most animals, other members of the species can tell at a glance how healthy/fertile/awesome they are -- a peacock with perfect feathers can only get them by being a healthy specimen. Humans are different -- with our clothes and makeup and talent for bullshit, we don't have any of those easy "Is this guy awesome?" shortcuts that can be spotted at a glance. But we want them very badly -- life would sure be a hell of a lot easier if people just had "trustworthy" stamped on their chest.
It's really the perfect solution.
So, in the absence of that, we just pick the people who spend twice as much on their clothing based on a brand name. Makes sense.