With many children feeling the effects of limited access to their friends over the last couple of months, a new study has demonstrated just how important it is to have fun and what that means in a child’s social circles.
Children who are well-liked and/or popular enjoy tremendous advantages in the peer group and after decades of study, experts now know that children who are well-liked tend to be outgoing, assertive, prosocial, and academically competent and are neither aggressive nor withdrawn. Children who are popular are outgoing, assertive, and prosocial or aggressive (or both) and they too are not withdrawn.
What about the characteristic of being fun? Researchers at Florida Atlantic University in collaboration with Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, have found that being fun is a serious matter because it imparts special benefits on children.
They recently published a first-of-its-kind longitudinal study in the Journal of Personality that explored the importance of being fun. The purpose of the study was to examine whether children who are well-liked and children who are popular got that way by being fun to hang around with.
Data from children living in Florida and children living in Colombia, South America, examined the degree to which peer perceptions of being fun predict increases in being liked by classmates and being popular with classmates. Their findings are the first to directly tie perceptions of children who are fun with changes in peer status.
The results highlight the importance of being fun. Across a two-month period, primary school children perceived by classmates as someone who is fun to be around experienced an increase in the number of classmates who liked them and the number who rated them as popular.
Importantly, these associations remained after removing the contribution of variables known to contribute to peer status, such as prosocial behaviour, leadership, physical attractiveness, fairness, athletic ability, disruptiveness, and aggression.
Being well-liked and being popular also anticipated changes in classmate perceptions of a child as fun, suggesting that, in the eyes of peers, “fun begets status and status begets fun.”
Lead author of the study Professor Brett Laursen from the Department of Psychology at Florida Atlantic University said the researchers predicted that being fun would uniquely contribute to a child’s social status.
“Obviously, fun is intrinsically rewarding. Fun peers are rewarding companions and rewarding companions enjoy higher social status than non-rewarding companions.
“But the benefits of fun probably extend well beyond their immediate rewards. Fun experiences provide positive stimulation that promotes creativity. Being fun can protect against rejection insofar as it raises the child's worth to the group and minimizes the prospect that others will habituate to the child's presence,” said Professor Laursen.
What makes a child fun? The researchers say that some children who are fun are undoubtedly equipped with a constellation of traits that combine to make them rewarding companions.
“One potential combination is surgency and ego resilience, which make the child a novel and exciting companion,” said Professor Laursen.
“Fun children are probably also socially adept and have high levels of perspective‐taking and social skills,” he said.
Why does all this matter matter? Professor Laursen says that adults tend to forget the importance of peer status Being well-liked and being popular are huge assets.
“Well‐liked children present few adjustment difficulties and tend to succeed where others do not…Popularity is highly coveted by children and adolescents; many value it above being liked.”
This finding raises the possibility of a reputational halo effect. Age-mates assume that children with high social status have desirable attributes, which may turn into a self-fulfilling prophesy as high status children are given more opportunities to have fun and thereby hone their skills around others who are fun.