University of California researchers say that popular students are more likely to bully their peers than “social outcasts.” An increase in social status is linked to an increase in aggression, for both males and females, confirming what nerds like me have believed for years: it’s the cool kids who make high school a nasty place.
The study, which was recently published in American Sociological Review, used data from The Context of Adolescent Substance Use survey, which is based on 3,722 eight, ninth and 10th-grade students at 19 different public schools in North Carolina. A student’s popularity was determined by their position in the school’s “web of friendships,” and the authors of the study defined aggression as physical, verbal, or indirect behavior directed toward harming or causing pain to another student. The study followed students throughout a school year.
However, the researchers found that students at the top of the social hierarchy were generally not as aggressive. Those in the top 2 percent of a school’s social hierarchy–along with those at the bottom– were found to be the least aggressive.
“If an adolescent at the top of the social hierarchy were to act aggressively towards his or her peers, such action could signal insecurity or weakness rather than cement the student’s position,” said Robert Faris, an assistant professor of sociology at UC Davis. “And, it’s possible that, at the highest level, they may receive more benefits from being pro-social and kind.”
As for those students at the bottom of the pecking order, they simply don’t have the power to act out aggressively.
The fact that there’s a correlation between popularity and bullying doesn’t seem too surprising. In high school I experienced plenty of ‘correlations’ with popularity. Like the negative correlation between popularity and chess club membership.