It's only common for the smart, academically proficient student to be labelled a 'nerd' by peers. Throw in a pair of spectacles, and it completes the picture. But is it possible for kids to be smart and also popular at school? Yes, say certain British researchers.
These scientists have found that there are several children who are counted among clever children at school but are spared the "nerd" tag, follow fashion and have a "fall guy" friend who is badly-behaved.
AdvertisementThis proposition is based on the findings of studies conducted in nine state secondary schools in England.
The study showed that top class children who were also popular with their classmates, called "alpha" pupils by academics, had a number of typical characteristics that protected them from being branded "boffins" in the playground.
Such children tended to be good-looking, sociable, extrovert and at the centre of events in class, say the researchers.
The study showed that the vast majority of "alpha" girls were thought of as physically attractive by classmates, had long straight hair, wore make-up to school, and used lots of hair accessories when allowed by the uniform code.
The "alpha" boys were perceived to be "cute", and many had gelled or styled shorter hair, carried banded sports bags and wore their ties in a "jaunty" or casual way.
Clever students' playground skills also ensured that they avoided derision, said the researchers.
The team also observed that alpha pupils gained kudos by having a best friend who was more disruptive at school, while avoiding facing the discipline that was meted out to the friend.
"Some pupils are able to maintain popularity with peers in spite of their high academic achievement," the Telegraph quoted Roehampton University's Professor Becky Francis, joint author of the paper, as saying.
"What appears to be a fundamental facilitator of this "balance" is their physical appearance, and for boys, their physical ability at sport.
"Of course, notions of 'attractiveness' are socially constructed, but it remains the case the some pupils are blessed with features that conform to such constructions and other are not," Francis added.
Working in collaboration with researchers from Birmingham Universities, investigators from Roehampton used data from classroom observations in nine mixed state schools and interviews with 71 high-achieving pupils, aged 12 and 13.
The researchers revealed that 22 of the students were both very able and popular. Fourteen among them were both exceptionally high-achieving and exceptionally popular, and were dubbed the "alpha" students.
They said that all alpha students were thought of as good looking and fashionable by their classmates.
While the alpha girls were often seen to be engaged in "girlie" activity like reapplying lipstick in class, some of the alpha boys were perceived as "class clowns" or "cheeky chaps" who used humour to deflect from their scholarship.
According to the research team, the 22 pupils had high levels of confidence and enthusiasm and worked hard in class.
They completed their work in challenging conditions despite the surrounding mayhem, which some of them were simultaneously engaged in.
They also seemed to perform academic tasks relatively effortlessly, at the same time as socialising in class.
"In this sense they are notably different from the high achieving but not popular pupils, including those delineated 'boffins' or 'geeks', who tended to be far more exclusively focused on the demands of learning," the researchers said.
There was evidence that some of the pupils were carefully negotiating the "balance".
One middle-class boy said: "Well, you try to make yourself be funny as well as do the right answers."