Stanford researcher studies how school environments can lead to cliques among high schoolers

Nov. 12, 2014, 10:46 a.m.

Daniel A. McFarland, professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, has further clarified the dynamics of clique formation in American high schools.

According to McFarland’s research, cliques are more pervasive and intense in certain environments and organizational structures.

For example, generally, schools with a greater variety of choices — more electives, different ways to complete graduation requirements — are significantly more likely to lead students to form cliques and segregate themselves by race, age and gender.

In contrast, the study found that clique behavior is less common in schools that limit variety. This is thought to be because in smaller schools there are a smaller number of potential friends. As a result, there is greater risk in excluding individuals from one’s social groups.

McFarland’s study also found that in larger schools, students tend to seek friends who are similar to them, thus increasing the number and strength of cliques.

Schools with a greater academic focus demonstrate a different effect. In a more academic environment, students are more likely to associate based on extracurricular activities and academic interests.

However, McFarland stressed that no type of school is unconditionally superior to others and that different students will thrive in different environments.

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