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Original Article

Coolness: An Empirical Investigation

Published Online:

Some people are routinely described as “cool,” but it is unknown whether this descriptor conveys trait-like information beyond mere likability or popularity. This is the first systematic quantitative investigation of coolness from a trait perspective. Three studies of North Americans (N = 918) converged to identify personality markers for coolness. Study 1 participants described coolness largely by referring to socially desirable attributes (e.g., social, popular, talented). Study 2 provided further evidence of the relationship between coolness and social desirability, yet also identified systematic discrepancies between valuations of coolness and social desirability. Factor analyses (Studies 2 and 3) indicated that coolness was primarily conceptualized in terms of active, status-promoting, socially desirable characteristics (“Cachet coolness”), though a second orthogonal factor (“Contrarian coolness”) portrayed cool as rebellious, rough, and emotionally controlled. Study 3, which examined peer valuations of coolness, showed considerable overlap with abstract evaluations of the construct. We conclude that coolness is reducible to two conceptually coherent and distinct personality orientations: one outward focused and attuned to external valuations, the other more independent, rebellious, and countercultural. These results have implications for both basic and applied research and theory in personality and social psychology.