Study: Popularity Increases Bullying

by Josh Encinias

Perhaps first lady Michelle Obama should consider new data in her crusade against bullying: Researchers Robert Faris of the University of California, Davis and Diane Felmlee of Penn State released a study finding that the risk of being bullied increases as kids climb the social ladder.

“Socially vulnerable youth are frequently harassed for violating norms, but the logic of status competition implies they are not the only victims: to the extent that aggression is instrumental for social climbing, increases in status should increase risk—at least until the pinnacle of the hierarchy is reached,” the researchers find. The researchers studied friendship and victimization among 8,000 kids at 19 schools.

The bottom line: All kids are “bullied”—and all kids play the roll of “victim” and “aggressor” at different times as they navigate the school social hierarchy. 

Faris and Felmlee write in their study that aggressors have strong social skills, and “harass their peers, not to reenact their own troubled home lives, but to gain status.”

The study finds that the “prom kings and queens” are the only ones who don’t deal with the everyday social tug-of-war, because they’ve already won.

“If status were money, they would be like Bill Gates — their positions are secure,” Faris said in a press release. “They don’t need to torment their peers in an effort to climb up the social ladder — a tactic commonly used among those battling for position — because they are already at the top, and they aren’t being victimized because they are out of reach and have no rivals.”​

The study also found that the more popular kids are, “the more depression, anxiety, anger, and social marginalization they experience” when they are picked on. 

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