The idea of mean girls and school cliques is nothing new, but a new study out of Stanford found that some schools are more likely to have mean girls than others depending on their size, organizational structure, and the school’s academics. In other words, groups like The Plastics don’t just happen organically.
Daniel McFarland, the lead author of the study, discovered through research that large schools—those with more academic freedom—are more likely to have cliques and mean girls than other, smaller schools. A news release about the study explains: “Schools that offer students more choice—more elective courses, more ways to complete requirements, a bigger range of potential friends, more freedom to select seats in a classroom—are more likely to be rank-ordered, cliquish, and segregated.”
Researchers examined two sets of friendships—friendships made in classrooms, and friendships school-wide, along with comparing one traditional Midwestern high school made up of mostly white students, and one magnet school in a “distressed” neighborhood of a large city that was diverse both along racial and economic lines.
According to McFarland, the study showed that “the way we organize schools will have repercussions” for students’ relationships with each other, and he even believes school officials can “indirectly direct” the way that friendships develop. McFarland ultimately concludes that by designing schools that encourage students to be friends based on common interests, schools can avoid “creating boundaries that correspond with inequities that already exist in society.”
Do you agree with these findings on why cliques form? Share your thoughts in the comments!