Can Your Friends Make You Smarter?

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Schools are well-known reservoirs of contagion where students share all sorts of communicable conditions: coughs, colds, flu, you name it, notes Karen Hopkin on the Scientific American website. But germs aren’t the only things kids can catch from their friends. If they’re lucky, they could come down with a 4.0:

“A new study shows that high-schoolers whose friends get higher marks tend to raise their own grade point averages over time. The findings are in the journal PLOS One.

That our social circles influence us is not news. For example, studies have shown that the fatter your friends, the more likely you’re also overweight.

In the grade point study, researchers took to the classroom to see whether academic achievement might be as contagious as obesity. They asked 158 eleventh-graders to go down a class roster and point out their pals. Then they checked everyone’s report cards at the time of the survey, and again a year later.

The researchers found that those students whose friends were outshining them academically tended to improve their grades over the year. Whereas those who were hanging out with academic underachievers let their grades slide.” (Read more here.)

If you’re interested, here’s the abstract of the article itself (Deanna Blansky et al., “Spread of Academic Success in a High School Social Network”):

“Application of social network analysis to education has revealed how social network positions of K-12 students correlate with their behavior and academic achievements. However, no study has been conducted on how their social network influences their academic progress over time.

Here we investigated correlations between high school students’ academic progress over one year and the social environment that surrounds them in their friendship network.

We found that students whose friends’ average GPA (Grade Point Average) was greater (or less) than their own had a higher tendency toward increasing (or decreasing) their academic ranking over time, indicating social contagion of academic success taking place in their social network.” (Read more here.)

This study gives me the opportunity to mention a wonderful new book I read recently: Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are, by Carlin Flora. Carlin examines the research on our social networks and how they affect us, revealing all kinds of surprising and thought-provoking findings. I recommend it! (Read more about Carlin’s book here.)

How about you? Did you feel that your friends in high school (or your friends now, for that matter) inspire you to be smarter?

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2 Responses to “Can Your Friends Make You Smarter?”

  1. Barry Kort says:

    When I was in school, there were the occasional passages in the curriculum where the brighter students would manage to understand the lesson, while many others in the classroom did not. I routinely shared with my classmates the elements of the lesson where I had found the teacher’s explanation a bit unclear.

    Most of the time, my classmates responded by saying, “Oh now I get it. I wish the teacher would have explained it the way you just did.”

    I was able to do this at the time because the stumbling blocks were still fresh in my mind, as I had just struggled myself to understand the lesson, as it had just been presented to the class.

  2. Michael Linville says:

    Barry,

    While the scenario you point out can be true much of the time, other times “whiz kids” are terrible teachers for their peers. The way they learn and understand materials can be completely foreign for other students. It may be better to have a more middle-of-the-road student who understands the material better through a very strong work ethic teach his/her peers. That way it may be presented in a more familiar way to the students.

    I’m not saying your post was wrong in any way; I just wanted to contributed to the discussion.

    Michael

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