Are good grades contagious?

March 6, 2013 | Posted in: High School, Middle Years

Whom your child hangs out with can have an effect on the grades he or she gets in school. At least that’s the finding of a new study recently published in the online journal PLOS One. The research suggests that the grades of friends rise or fall toward the average of their social circle over time.

This could add new emphasis to the old parental questions “Where are you going?” and “Who will you be with?”

The study makes use of “social contagion” theory, a new idea that argues behaviors and concepts can spread through a group of friends or a team (a social network) in the same way the flu spreads through a school. The social contagion theory has been applied in the past to suggest that obesity is socially contagious, and that people’s emotional states tend to spread through social networks.

The research team for this study included high school students from Endwell, N.Y., participating in NetSci High, a National Science Foundation program designed to teach students and teachers about new science methods.

They asked a group of 160 fellow students in their high school to identify on a class list those students they considered best friends, friends, acquaintances, relatives or unknown. Using school information such as grade point average, attendance and disciplinary actions for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years, the researchers applied the data to the revealed social groups, and discovered some interesting connections.

They found that if a student’s friends had a higher average GPA at the start of the study, the student’s grades were more likely to improve over the course of the study.

“That’s great,” says Dad. “I want you to spend more time with that kid who lives at the library.”

They also found the opposite was true: If a student’s GPA was higher than the average of the social group, his or her GPA was likely to drop.

“I think you spend too much time with that guy/girl,” says Mom.

The study also suggests this phenomenon goes beyond BFFs or similar personalities hanging out together. The relationships of students who were friends – just friends – showed a stronger likelihood for the grade shifts than close friendships.

So what do we make of this? Instead of advising parents to engineer social groups for their kids in the quest for better grades, maybe some study tips for any group of students would benefit everyone.

A study group can provide these benefits for students:

Helps stop procrastination

Because study groups meet at regular times, belonging to one can be a strong antidote for procrastination.

Fill in the gaps

Did you emphasize the right information in your notes? Sketch out a chart or graph correctly? By comparing notes with other students, you can catch a good look at things you might have missed.

Faster learning

They say many hands make light work. Well, many brains generally learn faster together than one student learning alone does. Confused over a paragraph or problem? Ask a question to the group. You become the hero when you can answer someone else’s question.

New perspectives

When you study alone, you see the material from only one point of view. Other’s perspectives can help you learn about a topic more thoroughly. In a group, you listen, learn and discuss. It’s good for your critical thinking skills to consider fresh viewpoints.

New study skills

In a group, you can discover new techniques to study. Your way might work fine for you right now, but if you face more challenging work, the ability to adopt new techniques can be a huge benefit.

Variety is good, and fun

Studying by yourself, especially for a long period, can become monotonous. The social aspect of a study group gives you a chance to discuss topics in a more flexible way, and talking it out adds another aspect to learning beyond just reading your textbook or notes alone.


In a study group, you and your partners share a single aim: a good grade in the course. Helping each other not only improves learning for each of you, but the support from the “team” helps build confidence and chases away test anxiety.


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