'Mean Girls' In Science

Scientists seem to love this movie, which is 10 years old today. They refer to it all the time in scientific papers.

Four girls wearing Santa hats and short Santa-themed dresses on stage

Ripe for a Social Science Study

"The Plastics" perform "Jingle Bell Rock."Paramount Pictures

It's the tenth anniversary of the release of Mean Girls. We love that movie! Scientists apparently do, too. I did a Google Scholar search of the phrase and found dozens of books and studies, all published after the release of the movie, examining girl culture, attitudes in the media, and other social science topics.

The reason I, an American woman, love Mean Girls is because it captured and validated so many of my high school experiences. I'm guessing the reason social scientists keep referring to the movie is related. The movie gave scholars—and American culture—a shorthand way of referring to phenomena people knew about, but didn't have a common, popular phrase for before.

Some examples of papers:

Mean Girls Grown Up – Argues that adolescent mean girls phenomena carries over into adulthood sometimes

"Mean Girls or Cultural Stereotypes?" – Are mean girls even real?? And are they really meaner than boys?

"Mean girls and bad boys: Recent research on gender differences in conduct disorder" – Mean girls actually have a psychiatric disorder that's more often associated with boys.

Of course, some studies weren't just alluding to Mean Girls. They directly studied the movie. Many such studies didn't seem to be fans:

"Mean Girls? The Influence of Gender Portrayals in Teen Movies on Emerging Adults' Gender-Based Attitudes and Beliefs" – College kids who watched movies like Mean Girls hold more negative stereotypes about female friendships than their peers who don't watch such movies.

"From invisible to incorrigible: The demonization of marginalized women and girls" – Media and academic attention to "mean girls" phenomena "has resulted in significant backlash against women," including higher arrest and incarceration rates of women even as violent crime rates decreased.

"The effects of viewing physical and relational aggression in the media: Evidence for a cross-over effect" – Viewing clips from Mean Girls primes study volunteers to be more aggressive

Now that a decade has passed since Mean Girls opened, will researchers continue to study and talk about them/it? Maybe so. Just this year, references include a book chapter about Toddlers & Tiaras, that reality TV show about kid beauty pageants; an essay about what girls really need; and a paper about makeovers in teen movies. It seems like mean girls, at least as a meme, are here to stay.