Mothers tell their children that mean kids behave that way because they have unhappy home lives, feel inadequate, or don’t have enough friends; or because they lack empathy. But a new study suggests some mean kids actually behave that way simply because they can. It has now been proved that the more popular a kid becomes, the more central to the social network of the school, the more aggressive the behaviour he or she engages in. At least, that was the case in North Carolina, where students from 19 middle and high schools were studied for 5 years by researchers at the University of California-Davis.
Authors Robert Faris and Diane Felmlee interviewed public-school kids seven times over the course of their study, starting when the students were in grades 6, 7 and 8. They asked the students to say who their friends were and used the data to create friendship maps. They then asked the kids who was unkind to them and whether they bullied anyone. Researchers then tried to determine the pathways of aggression. What they found was that only one-third of the students engaged in any bullying at all — physical force, insults or spreading gossip — but those who were becoming more popular in the school bullied more. Only when kids reached the very top 2 % of the school’s social hierarchy or fell into the bottom 2 % did their behavior change; these kids were the least aggressive. “Seemingly normal well-adjusted kids can be aggressive,” says Faris, whose results are published in the American Sociological Review. “We found that school status increases aggression.”
Although authors do not discard psychological or background influences as underlying causes of bullying, they believe that popularity is at least as important. “It’s one of the few times I can remember in social sciences where race and family background seem to make very little difference,” says Faris. “Those demographic and socioeconomic factors don’t seem to matter as much as where the kids are in the school hierarchy in terms of their popularity.” Faris also found that kids who cared more about popularity, were more aggressive. Surprisingly, though, hostile behavior did not make them more popular. “The evidence suggests that aggression does not increase status,” he says. Then again, bullying works mostly because kids believe it does.
Another stereotype the study destroyed was that males and females bully differently. Boys spread gossip less often than girls did. And girls were less physically violent to each other than boys were. Gender-on-gender bullying was more prevalent among girls than boys, but boys were more likely to be hostile toward girls than the other way around. However, gender wasn’t entirely a neutral factor. If a girl knew a lot of boys, or a boy knew a lot of girls at a school where there wasn’t much mixing of the sexes, those kids’ popularity would go up, presumably because they provided a bridge to contact with potential dates. And, yes, the “gender-bridge” kids, as the study called them, seemed to be more aggressive than others.
If bullying is actually more a result of school hierarchy than of psychology, Faris believes there might be a more effective solution than trying to change the behavior of the bullies. “The majority of kids who witness bullying, either do not oppose it or encourage it,” says Faris. “Those are the ones who give these kids their status. We need to change their minds.”
Text adapted from Time (February 8, 2011)
- mean: mesquí / mezquino
- engage: involucrar
- hierarchy: jerarquia / jerarquía
- underlying: fonamental /fundamental
- prevalent: freqüent / frecuente
Reading comprehensionChoose the best answer according to the text. Only ONE answer is correct.
1. According to the text, mean kids behave that way
- because mothers do not prevent them to do so.
- as a result of the pressure of other students.
- for no apparent reason, just because it is accepted.
- as a consequence of their empathy with their friends.
- increases with the kids’ popularity.
- increases when the kid is involved in the school hierarchy.
- is insignificant among popular kids.
- depends on the school’s social network.
- in principle any kid may become a bully.
- physical force, insults or spreading gossip are the only forms of bullying.
- kids who were in the bottom 2 % of the school hierarchy inevitably become bullies.
- reaching the top 2 % of the school hierarchy conditioned kids towards bullying.
- popularity is the only determining factor in bullying.
- race and family background are strongly determining factors in bullying.
- psychological or background influences are also relevant when considering bullying.
- demographic and socioeconomic factors condition the school hierarchy.
- increases the status of the kid at school.
- works mostly because kids like bullying.
- makes kids more popular at school.
- does not imply a rise in popularity.
- girls prefer bullying boys rather than the other way round.
- boys clearly spread more gossip than girls do.
- bullying was clearly more violent among boys than among girls.
- bullying was more frequent between girls than the other way round.
According to the study, “gender-bridge” kids
- tended to be more aggressive than other students.
- are kids that have more dates than others.
- are very popular because they bully the rest.
- prove that gender is a neutral factor when considering bullying.
- is to change the behaviour of the bullies.
- lies in changing the minds of the majority of kids at school.
- is to encourage opposition againts the bullies.
- lies in introducing changes in the school hierarchy.