Marriage and Family Therapist
Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross is a licensed psychotherapist with almost twenty years of clinical experience in the fields of clinical psychology and organizational management. She has worked extensively with a wide variety of…
What Makes Someone "Cool"?
Posted in Healthy Relatio... by Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross on Dec 06, 2012
Whether or not someone is actually deemed to be cool sounds like stuff of playground gossip and, in fact, it is. But recently a group of social scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York have decided to try to more clearly understand what is actually considered and defined as “cool” in today’s society. Interestingly, the idea of coolness goes back to the Middle Ages and is rooted in West African culture, according to Yale University’s art history professor Robert Farris Thompson.

The researchers quest for what defines “cool” lead them to ask 508 people to use adjectives they thought were related to the word itself. Most studies reveal that self-confidence is a highly attractive trait and this study was no different. People gave words such as “confident” and “popular.” Other words such as, “aloof” and “calm” appeared less frequently. It was difficult to pin down a very specific definition but what the researchers did agree upon is that people seem to recognize coolness when they see it.

Celebrities are often considered cool because they are being perceived at a distance. They may play characters that exhibit desirable traits and, because the public doesn’t actually know them personally, admirers are able to project their fantasies onto the celeb. In this case being aloof may appear as though someone is really cool when it is often a self-protective stance.

The assignment of popularity seems to go to those who are considered to be cool because of specific traits. Those traits may be related to appearance or financial status and are very often acquired by association. People who surround themselves with “cool” people tend to be seen as having those characteristics as well. Those with advanced social skills and an ability to make friends easily are often seen as cool and that perception creates a cycle of likability. When people are seen as cool and likeable they are a sought-after friend; and when people feel sought-after, they tend to be friendlier, and more socially confident.

As parents, we attempt to teach our kids that being cool is really about being nice, honest, and a good friend because as adults, we have learned that these traits are much more important in the long run than those that may currently be valued by their peers. Even media directed at kids often have stories about how the popular kid falls from grace because of his or her meanness, and is only fully accepted when they have been reformed. If only real life mimicked that scenario more often.

Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon us to recite the mantra about what we believe should be cool, even though our children will learn that those who are deemed cool at school may not have any of the above-mentioned traits. And of course the majority of kids will spend most of their teen years thinking that the antonyms for cool are anything that defines their parents. Ultimately though, the message will get through, so don’t stop trying to convey it.

While the definition of “cool” may not be any clearer after the study and in fact, I believe it to fairly subjective in reality, the topic does inspire interesting conversations and can be very revealing about how people see not only others, but also themselves.

What traits do you think make someone seem cool?

- Cyndi


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Last comment is hilarious! I agree with you.
By EtherealTranquility  Dec 12, 2012
When I am 6 feet underground in a casket I will be very cool. Know what cool is? Cool is not caring if people think you are cool or not...that is the only definition of cool.
By sweatingbullets  Dec 10, 2012
A cool person to me is one that is friendly, helpful to EVERYONE; That radiates confidence. Wittiness is an added bonus but not everyone has this quality.
By energylost  Dec 08, 2012
In school --it's whoever the TEACHER gravitates towards and the others just follow along! This one guy, to me he interrupted class A LOT with his stupid homor; he thought he was funny, he looked like he slept in his clothes, got lost in his notes when it was time to read back, anything but self-confident -- but they gravitated towards him because -- the TEACHERz did.
By energylost  Dec 08, 2012
I thought this article was well timed since this past week, the alternative paper from my metro area ran a rather nasty article about one of its suburbs which, it seems, isn't cool enough. To me, cool people are the folks who just do what needs to be done without thinking about what impression they're making. If someone is trying to be cool, he's automatically out.
By bookwoman  Dec 07, 2012
Confidence is cool, and unusual but pleasant personalities.
By Icing  Dec 07, 2012
Humble, out of ordinary, well spoken people.

Those who are not afraid of others, or of looking *dumb*. I think that's what confidence is about.

And personally speaking, I highly respect and value hard workers. To me, they are super cool!
By drwho546  Dec 07, 2012
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