For most of us, high school is a time we don't really want to remember. Other people have great memories about it, but for some reason, the bad ones seem to stick out - unreciprocated crushes, embarrassing moments, questions of sexuality, and even parent pressure. We had to socially climb the latter, make grades that could help us get into good colleges, and even perform on the athletic fields.
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It is all so much that psychologically, it sticks with us forever. And there have been signs of that in popular media - there is a reason that movies like Mean Girls, The Breakfast Club, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High seem to live forever.
According to research presented by Frank McAndrew in Science Alert, the real reason we never forget high school is not because of the onslaught of media attention on high school, but rather because of the hardwiring in our brains. This wiring is from several million years of evolution and centers around the social bubble that high school creates.
In other words, the world that we live in is so starkly different from the world we are in as teenagers.
If you think about it, the things that happened to you in the four years of high school leave a lasting imprint on your brain. From the shows we watched to the songs we listened to, even just a second of one or the other can send us to the memories we had of that time. For instance, put on the song you had your last dance to at prom, and see how quickly you remember every detail.
Research has shown that our strongest memories come from things that happened to use between the ages of 10 and 30. Part of that is because of the sensitivity to all of the information that we get. We constantly get feedback about what we are doing.
Glimpses into memory show us that these years are so important to forming who we become as people.
Popularity is important in high school because it was important to our forefathers. We used to live in small groups, and most people would stay in those groups forever. Figuring out how to attract the best group was crucial to living.
There was also the need to be a good hunter because that was the basis for how much esteem you had - and how much others wanted to be around you. Someone thought to be a loser when he was young was unlikely to have a good place in the group at 30. This means that, from an evolutionary perspective, teen years impacted the rest of your life.
Peer pressure is another evolutionary tactic - in prehistoric times, if you didn't blend in, you were ostracized. Ostracism basically equaled death.
Natural selection played a big part in survival and reproduction - something that continues today in a world where looks and physicality are more important than ever. People in high school also allow you to make social comparisons - you know people so well that you can use them as the building blocks for testing out other people.
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It all makes sense when you think about it - but it doesn't make high school any less rotten.