Crowd Behaviors and Attitudes in High School

Alan Becker

North High School

Abstract: This experiment is ethnography of high school students in a predominantly white, middle-class environment. The experiment attempts to find the differences and similarities in the behaviors of different crowds. Each crowd was identified, observed and then surveyed to see if their behavior matched their beliefs about their behavior. The results to the experiment show that there are similarities and differences in the behaviors of students who belong to different crowds. Also, the results show that many students have false beliefs about their behaviors or actions that were observed by the experimenter.

There are many different attitudes students have toward school. Often students express their opinions about school through their behavior, but it is uncertain to how each type of student personally thinks about school. This experiment attempts to place students in known crowd types, obtain a sample of each crowd's attitude toward school, and observe crowd behavior in the classroom.
The need for a human to belong to a group or to love another person has existed since the dawn of mankind. As a young person moves into adolescence, interactions with peers take on an added level of complexity. In addition to dyadic and small-group relations, both of which are apparent in childhood, the adolescent's social world seems to be heavily influenced by the division of peers into larger collectives, commonly referred to as crowds (Brown, Lohr, and Trujillo 1990). One's crowd affiliation reveals not only who one "hangs around" with, but also one's reputation among peers. Labels given to crowds reflect the personality, social position, life style, and other basic aspects of how one is viewed by peers.
Peer-group affiliation is central to identity development of early and middle adolescence (Brown, Lohr, and Trujillo 1990). A teenager needs to affiliate with a group of peers whose norms correspond with his or her own values and interests. In doing so, a number of different crowd types are formed.
In most previous crowd experiments, there has been a main focus on the crowds of Jocks, Delinquents, and Normals (Brown, Lohr, and Trujillo 1990). This is due to the experimenters' belief that a leading crowd in a community can and will shape the rest of the adolescent peer culture. However, this is an unwise assumption because there exists an obvious difference in behaviors and values of adolescents in different crowds. In a previous experiment conducted by B. Bradford Brown, Mary Jane Lohr, and Carla Trujillo (1990), their results show that adolescents perceive their social world as comprised of a diverse array of peer groups, with distinctive, well-differentiated life styles. In this experiment, high school and college students identified eight different categories of crowds based on six different characteristics consisting of dress and grooming, sociability, academic attitude, extracurricular participation, school hangout, and weekend activities. This experiment recognized and identified crowd types other than the universally known Jock, Delinquent, and Normal crowds. Furthermore, ethnographies of adolescent social systems all mention a variety of crowds with distinctive "personalities" (Kandel 1990). The difference that exists in these other crowds is that each community has different types of "sub-cultures" of crowds that are similar to crowds throughout the United States. These "sub-cultures" of crowds just vary in their name and by other minor differences. For instance, in one community a group of people may be identified as "Druggies" while in another community a very similar crowd would be identified as "Stoners." Because of the existence of these different "sub-culture" crowds, Jocks, Delinquents, and Normals cannot be the only crowds acknowledged by society.
Crowd labels reflect its members' interests and values, but these labels are also considered stereotypes in that not all members behave in the same manner. Because of this stereotype and because the members feel like they must belong to their crowd, that crowd stereotype influences its members' behavior, activities, and self-conceptions (Steinberg 1993). Psychologists B. Bradford Brown and his colleagues have studied how peer group membership may affect the adolescent's development and behavior. Although most adolescents feel pressure from their friends to behave in ways that are consistent with their crowd's values and goals, the specific nature of the pressure varies from one crowd to another. For instance, adolescents who are part of the "Druggie" crowd report much more peer pressure to engage in misconduct than do adolescents from the "Brain" crowd. Membership can also affect the way adolescents feel about themselves, which is related to one's behaviors and actions. Adolescents' self-esteem is higher among students who are identified with peer groups that have relatively more status in their school. In high schools previously studied, a high status crowd, such as the Jocks, has higher self-esteem than students identified with a lower status crowd, such as the Druggies and Toughs. Thus being affiliated with a crowd affects one's motivations and one's self-esteem; two attributes which are crucial to one's academic performance and experience.
The motivation and self-esteem of an individual in turn effects one's grades, attendance, and over-all attitude toward school. In a previous study, Stephen Devadoss and John Foltz (1996) found a direct correlation between class attendance and class participation on earning better grades in school. They have also found that violent and disruptive behaviors contribute negatively to one's academic performance. Furthermore, Epstein (1983) found that, given two students with similar records of past achievement, the student whose friends do better in school is likely to achieve more than the student whose friends do worse. Thus, being affiliated with a crowd of which promotes high self-esteem and high motivation toward school will contribute to the overall success of the student.
The operational definition for a crowd is a label attached to students who behave the same way or do the same things, and have similar dress and grooming styles. The types of crowds are Gothics, Toughs, Druggies, Loners, and Normals. Gothics are people who wear black, death related clothes. They often have dyed hair, an abundance of makeup, and have many body piercings and metal on their clothes. Toughs are people who have a gang-like image and attitude. They often dress in torn, over-sized clothes and are not groomed in a clean style. Druggies are people who use illicit drugs and alcohol. Their appearance is shabby and they wear drug-orientated cloths; they may also be referred to as Hippies and Stoners. Loners are people who are shy and socially isolated. They often avoid eye contact with people and appear to be content by themselves by avoiding interaction with other people. They are dressed and groomed in a clean manner. Normals are the average, middle-of-the-road students who constitute the masses of the high school.
When observing student behavior, the experimenter observed a number of identifiable behaviors that include Insignificant Comments, Thorough Explanations, and Disrespectful Acts. All of these behaviors contribute to observed student attitudes. Insignificant Comments are remarks that do not pertain to the subject at hand and are a disruption to the class. Thorough Explanations are in-depth, well thought out answers. Disrespectful Acts disrupt the normal status of things, and display an attitude of not caring, rudeness, and inappropriate actions. These actions make up a student's observed attitude, which is a mental or emotional response to a condition or fact. Behavior is the manner of conduct of a person.

The purpose of this experiment is to determine if crowds show consistent observed attitudes and behaviors toward high school. The independent variable is the member of a crowd. The dependent variable is the crowd member's behavior and attitude toward high school. A null hypothesis to this experiment would be that each individual has his or her own attitude and will express it independently of crowd norms and beliefs. My hypothesis is that there will be similarities and differences in the behaviors and attitudes of different crowds. For instance, I believe that Loners will display quiet behavior during class, while most Toughs will disrupt the class by talking. Also, I believe that Toughs, Druggies, and Gothics will display many negative similarities. There will the biggest difference in the behavior between Loners and the crowds of Toughs, Druggies, and Gothics. I believe the Normals will be more similar to the Loners than any other crowd. I believe that Druggies, Gothics, and Toughs will display negative attitudes, and Normals and Loners will have a positive attitude toward school.
In operationalizing hypothesis I would like to monitor every type of crowd in and out of the high school classroom. This would ensure that I have placed each student in the correct crowd. There would be a comparison study of how students behave when they are placed in a class dominated by their crowd versus how they behave when they are not the dominate crowd in the classroom. Also, an extensive survey would need to be given to each crowd member in a solitude environment. This survey would inspect their attitudes and behaviors toward school and why they act accordingly. The target population would also have to include a more diverse group of teenagers who live in different socio-economic environments.
Methods and Procedure
The experimental group was drawn from a Midwestern, predominantly white, urban high school with a population of 1648 students. There was no control group in this experiment. Seven high school classes consisting of 165 students were observed by means of natural observation for three days each. The classes consisted of an Introductory Physics class, a graduation mandatory Biology class, an elective Film Study class, a mandatory freshmen Afro-Asian History class, a mandatory Health class, a senior elective Social Problems class, and a Math for Everyday Living class. The first day of observation was used to place each student into one of the following crowd categories identified at the high school by the experimenter: Gothics, Druggies, Toughs, Loners, and Normals. The second two days were used to evaluate each student's behavior by observing his or her classroom behaviors. A seating chart was made to record where each crowd member sat. A follow-up survey was given at the end of the quarter to each student to measure acknowledged student attitude. The seating arrangement determined which person in a crowd responded to each survey.
One confounding variable in this experiment is that an observer may disrupt the class with their presence. To keep my presence from being a disruption to the class, I sat in the back of the classroom, arrived before other students to the classroom, and ignored any comments or questions directed at me and why I was in the classroom. The observer could also place students in the wrong type of crowd category. In order to place each student in the right crowd, I used an entire class period to determine the crowd type they belonged to. Also, the observer could have missed students' behaviors or actions. To eliminate missing people's behaviors, I sat where I could observe the entire classroom and paid no attention to the class curriculum. Finally, not every student may be in the classroom during the experiment. To account for students who didn't attend class everyday, I only observed and recorded data from students who were in the classroom each day that I was present.

Two sets of data are derived from this experiment: observed student behavior and the results from a survey that are self-perceived behavior. The observations consist of 18 different aspects of students' behavior along with other observations of students' behavior and are shown by the charts. The survey results are shown by the graphs.
Most Gothics responded that they are indifferent about whether or not school is interesting, while the average Gothic has very little interest in school. Most Druggies responded that they are indifferent about whether or not school is interesting, and the average crowd member has slightly less interest in school. Toughs responded that they have very little interest in school. Most Loners and Normals responded that they find school interesting, and the average crowd member is indifferent about school.

1- Not At All 2- Very Little 3-Indifferent 4- Interesting 5- Very Interesting

Normals and Toughs believe they participate by volunteering in class three times per day. I observed these two crowds to participate in class the most often, having 73.3% of Normals participate and 100% of the Toughs participate. Gothics believe they participate 2-3 times per day, while I only observed one Gothic participating once in class. Most Druggies believe they participate once per day, but on average, they participated less than once per day. I observed only one Druggie participating once. Most Loners believe they do not participate at all, but on average participate about two times per day. I observed 9 Loners volunteering during the experiment. Of the 111 students that participated in class, .9% were Gothics, .9% were Druggies, 13.5% were Toughs, 8% were Loners, and 76.6% were Normals.


Number of People Observed Number of People in Crowd Percent of Total People Observed Percent of their crowd
Gothic 1 5 .9009 20
Druggie 1 5 . 9009 20
Tough 15 15 13.5135 100
Loner 9 28 8.1081 32.143
Normal 85 116 76.5766 73.276
Total People 111
Gothics reported that their first quarter grade is a C. 75% of Gothics believe this grade does not reflect their ability in the class and 25% believe it does. Druggies and Toughs reported that their first quarter grade is a C+. Two-thirds of the Druggies believe that this grade does not reflect their ability in the class and one-third believes it does. About half of the Toughs believe that it does reflect their ability in the class. Most Loners reported that their first quarter grade is a C, and the average Loner reported that they have a B-. 35% of Loners believe this grade does not reflect their ability while 65% believe it does reflect their ability. Most Normals reported that their first quarter grade is an A, and the average Normal reported that their grade is a B+. 31% of Normals believe this grade does not reflect their ability in the class and 67% believe it does.

Grading Scale:
A 5
A- 4.75
B+ 4.25
B 4
B- 3.75
C+ 3.25
C 3
C- 2.75
D+ 2.25
D 2
D- 1.75
F 0

Gothics believe that the teacher could not make the class more interesting. One-third of Druggies believe the teacher could make the subject more interesting and two-thirds of believe the teacher could not. 40% of Toughs believe the teacher could make the subject more interesting and 55% believe the teacher could not. 48% of Loners believe the teacher could make the subject more interesting and 43% believe the teacher could not. 49% of Normals believe the teacher could make the subject more interesting while 38% believe the teacher could not make the subject more interesting.

Some general characteristics of each crowd appeared from the experiment. Gothics have very little interest in high school and have a minimum effort toward school. They usually arrive to class late, and participate at a minimum level. They also are not involved in group activities. A majority of the crowd did not pay attention to the class, but they usually did not disrupt the class by talking to their friends. Their homework is done about 50% of the time and they do not use their class time to do their homework. They do less than an hour of homework per night and have an average grade of a C, which 75% of the crowd believes does not reflect their ability in the class. They do not deliberately disobey the teacher and they respect the other students in their class.
The Druggie crowd is composed of students who are not a contribution to the class. They attend school about 80% of the time and have a minimum effort toward school. They do not ask questions about the material at hand, and rarely volunteer to participate. They talk to their friends when they are not suppose to, and usually disrupt the class in doing so. They do not participate in group activities, although they do associate with members of other crowds. Their homework is only completed about half of the time. They put a minimum effort toward the class, which may reflect on their letter grade of a C+, which 67% of the crowd believes does not reflect their ability.
Toughs have very little interest in school and do not pay attention to the class. They are usually a disruption to the class, but they believe they attend school almost all of the time. I observed such disruptive behaviors as cheating, shouting out answers when not called on, making fun of other students, eating, throwing items, swearing, sleeping, and reading the newspaper or magazines during class. They orally participate but they often disrupt the class in doing so because they talk out of turn and make Insignificant Comments. By doing so, teachers often make negative comments directed at them by the teacher. They do not have respect for other students or the teacher's rules. They are moderately involved in group activities because they will associate with other crowd members; however, their constructive contributions are questionable. They usually have about one hour of homework per night, and their grades are among C's and C+'s. 45% of the crowd believes this grade does reflect their ability and 50% believe it does not.
Most Loners put a moderate effort toward school and find school interesting while the other members are indifferent about school. They have excellent attendance records and 82% of their crowd arrives to class at least two minutes early. About 32% of their crowd will orally participate in class, although I observed this to most often occur when they would support another person's opinion or answer. They usually do not talk to their friends during class nor do they disrupt the class or disobey the teacher. They are often quiet and have a minimum participation in group activities. They almost always have their homework completed and do between one and one and a half hours of homework per night. The average grade is a B- and the most common grade is a C, which 65% of the crowd believes reflects their ability in the class.
Normals put forth a moderate effort toward school and most of them find school interesting. They have good attendance records with some students arriving to class early and some students arriving to class late. They orally participate the most compared to the other crowds, and they ask questions pertaining to class material. They sometimes talk when they are not suppose to and usually it is to their friends of the same crowd. They sometimes interrupt the class by talking, but do not display other disruptive behavior. They have the most involvement in group activities, probably due to the fact that the groups are comprised of students of their same crowd. They do between one and two hours of homework per night. The average grade is a B+ and the most common grade is an A, which 67% of the crowd believes reflects their ability in the class.
Some other observations that I noted are that when students could choose their own groups, they always formed groups with their own crowd members. Loners were the slowest to form groups, as they did not want to join groups with other crowds. Also, when Loners participated, they talked in a quiet voice and avoided eye contact with the teacher. I also observed Loners to ask questions about the class either after the class, or when the student could privately talk to the teacher. Druggies and Toughs associated with each other more than other crowds did. I often heard these students talking about drug related activity.
I found some things interesting that students believe about themselves. For instance, students do not believe that they disrespect the teacher, yet they disrupt the class by talking to their friends. I also didn't see students using their class time to do homework, especially in group activities. Despite this, most students still had their homework completed on time. There also seems to be a correlation between how much time students spend on homework and their grade in the class. Looking at the Normals' grades and time spent on homework and comparing them to the other crowds shows this. It is also interesting that the only two crowds that find school interesting are the Loners and Normals. These two crowds had the only students who gave Thorough Explanations , the best average grades, and found school to be the most interesting.
My hypothesis to this experiment was partially correct. Toughs, Druggies, and Gothics did display a negative attitude toward school and learning. These crowds also contained more similarities than differences to each other. For instance, they had similar grades and beliefs about their grades and often talked to their friends during class. A difference was that Druggies did not attend school as often and that Toughs displayed a greater degree of disrespect than the other crowds. Normals is the only crowd that displayed a positive attitude toward school, although I thought Loners would as well. There existed the biggest difference in the behaviors of Loners versus Gothics, Toughs, and Druggies. For example, Gothics, Toughs, and Druggies more negatively contributed to the classroom than Loners did. In each crowd, the members contributed to characteristics that set each crowd apart from each other.
For replication of this experiment, a longitudinal study of student crowd affiliation should be made. Also, this experiment should be conducted in many different socio-economic environments. Then the "sub-cultures" of crowds could be placed into a more universal crowd category. When replicating this experiment, the experimenter should note which crowd consists of the majority of the classroom and whether or not it effects the students' behaviors. In this experiment, Normals were the majority of the students in each classroom, except in the Math for Everyday Living class. Here, there were more Toughs and Druggies, and there was the biggest display of disruptive behavior among the classes I observed. Also, knowing which students missed school and why they missed school would contribute to a better characterization of each crowd. The data from this experiment now allows for certain student behaviors to be attributed with certain crowds.

Works Cited

Brown, B. Bradford, Lohr, Mary Jane, & Trujillo, Carla (1990). Multiple Crowds and Multiple Life Styles: Adolescents' Perceptions of Peer-Group Stereotypes. In Rolf E. Muuss (Ed.), Adolescent Behavior and Society (4th Ed.) (pp.30-36). McGraw-Hill Publishing Company: New York.

Devadoss, S. and Flotz, J. (August 1996) Evaluation of factors influencing student class attendance and performance. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Volume 78 Issue 3, p.499.

Eptein, J. (1983). Friends in School. New York: New York Academic Press.

Kandel, Denise B. (1990). On Variations in Adolescent Subcultures. In Rolf E. Muuss (Ed.), Adolescent Behavior and Society (4th Ed.) (pp.30-36). McGraw-Hill Publishing Company: New York.

Steinberg, L. (1993). Adolescence. New York: McGraw-Hill.