That bully from high school that you’ve never forgiven and the jerk you share an office with at work could very well be higher up on the social ladder than you, according to newly published research.
The study, conducted by researchers at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and published in Journal of Interpersonal Violence earlier this month, found that bullying was an inherited trait that helps build social rank and sex appeal.
Lead author and criminology professor Jennifer Wong along with student Jun-Bin Koh surveyed 135 Vancouver high school students, aged 13-16, for their study. After dividing students up into four groups — bully, bystander, victim or victim-bully — according to their answers, the researchers found that bullies had significantly higher social status and self-esteem, as well as much lower risk for depression, than non-bullies.
Contrary to the accepted wisdom that bullies are maladjusted or troubled, the findings give credence to evolutionary psychology theory, which posits that psychological traits which are beneficial to a person’s survival, reproductive chances and overall well-being will stay and evolve through natural selection. In other words, bullying exists to the extent it does today because, on some level, it works.
Wong writes in the study’s conclusion:
“Bullying emerges from evolutionary development, providing an adaptive edge for gaining better sexual opportunities and physical protection, and promoting mental health.”
Critics, like Rob Frenette, the co-founder of advocacy group Bullying Canada, disagree with the study’s findings. He told the National Post that he has never encountered a bully that did not have an underlying problem fueling their behavior. He added:
“This is kind of stepping backward and that’s concerning. I don’t want parents who have a child who is considered a bully to think, ‘Well, it’s something they’re born with and there’s nothing we can do to adjust their behavior.’ ”
Wong said that she wants to repeat her research with a larger sample size to improve its statistical power. She advocates that schools develop more competitive activities at school as an outlet for bullies instead of punishing them directly, which she says may actually heighten bullies’ social standing.
A study published earlier this month found that men who bully women in online games are more often of lower status and skill than those men who do not.