ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) — Bullying behaviors are linked to higher self-esteem, social status, and a lower rate of depression, according to a new provocative study.
Researchers at Simon Fraser University observed a group of high school students finding that bullies had the highest self esteem, greatest social status, and were less likely to be depressed, as reported by National Post.
“Humans tend to try to establish a rank hierarchy,” Jennifer Wong, a criminology professor who led the study, told the Post. “When you’re in high school, it’s a very limited arena in which you can establish your rank, and climbing the social ladder to be on top is one of the main ways … Bullying is a tool you can use to get there.”
Wong notes that many anti-bullying initiatives try to change the behavior of bullies, but often don’t work. This is likely because behavior is hard-wired and not learned, she says. Experts suggest that schools might expand competitive, supervised activities as an alternative outlet to channel dominating behavior.
The new study surveyed 135 teenagers from a Vancouver high school using a standard questionnaire. Questions included things like how often individuals were hit or shoved. Researchers then categorized the students into four groups: bully, bystander, victim, or victim-bully.
About 11 percent of the group was categorized as bullies and they scored highest on self-esteem, social status, and lowest on depression, according to study.
In a separate study, Tony Volk, a Brock University psychologist, found among 178 teenagers surveyed, bullies also were more sexually active.
“The average bully isn’t particularly sadistic or even deeply argumentative,” he says. “What they really are is people driven for status.”
Those working to change bullying tactics in schools are concerned that some claim the characteristic is innate and cannot be changed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines bullying as unwanted aggressive behavior that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is often repeated multiple times. The CDC notes that the behavior can inflict harm or distress in the form of physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.
Rob Frenette, co-founder of the advocacy and support group Bullying Canada, emphasizes that bullies usually have some sort of underlying issue, such as violence in the home, suggesting that bullying is triggered, not natural.
“This is kind of stepping backward and that’s concerning,” he told the Post, regarding Wong’s study. “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 says more research is needed before considering it definitive, hoping to test the same concept with larger groups of students to strengthen the findings.