In my continuing search for the silliest academic study, comes this one from the University of Rochester:
Coolness is ubiquitous in 21st-century life. Figuring out how to be“cool”is arguably a rite of passage in the network of many modern cultures that have otherwise abandoned rites of passage.
Most of those who pursue cool status can be frustrated by its elusiveness and fickleness, even as easy attainment of coolness is promised by consumer products and services worldwide. The term “cool” is routinely used to describe various individuals, but does such a descriptor truly contain trait-like information above and beyond its indication of likability and peer approval?
In order to study the construct of coolness, we use a nomological net approach (Cronbach & Meehl,1955), examining convergent and discriminant validity with respect to other constructs. We base our reasoning partly on a lexical hypothesis (Goldberg, 1993) that the construct of coolness has become embedded in language because it reflects a meaningful dimension of variation conveying information about persons. Our approach does not test specific hypotheses directly, but is nevertheless relevant to evaluating various scholarly accounts of the construct (e.g., Danesi, 1994; Frank, 1997; Majors & Mancini Billson, 1992; Pountain & Robins, 2000) with regard to how well these accounts capture popular understandings of coolness. Thus, we aim to identify a conceptual framework by which all hypotheses about cool may be tested in sub-sequent research.
Did you get all that? They asked college kids -- and why is it always college kids who show up for these studies? -- to define coolness. And what they came up with, as is usually the case after spending lots of grant money, is the obvious:
Participants generated 1,639 entries for the adjectives associated with coolness. Most of the entries appeared once(e.g., “accepted,” “zealous”), though some of them appeared repeatedly [e.g.,“confident”(54times),“awesome”(23 times)] or in different variations [e.g., “attractive” (28times), “beautiful” (5), “handsome” (5)].
On the other hand, they did find out something we've probably all suspected. "Coolness" often means "fits in well":
Our finding that Cachet and Contrarian coolness are perceived as potentially orthogonal or even moderately positively correlated is consistent with Frank’s (1997) suggestion that coolness as a counterculture force may no longer reflect an actually rebellious value system, but rather a kind of rebellious-looking conformity to current social forces,particularly consumerism. In addition to consumerism, the cool pose may confer other disadvantages: susceptibility to peer pressure (Cachet), smoking (Contrarian), drug use (Contrarian), and sex before sexual understanding...
Liberals are so cool.