The Perks of Being a Bully

[R]esearch cited by Anthony Volk, Joseph Camilleri, Andrew Dane and Zopito Marini in a 2012 Aggressive Behavior journal article indicate that bullying-induced social dominance is correlated with reduced stress and improved physical health. Amazingly, “bullying is also positively linked with other positive mental traits such as … cognitive empathy, leadership, social competence, and self-efficacy.”

Bullies are not people who crave insight into human nature, in other words: They often have more insight into our true nature, at least in its Hobbesian, adolescent form, than the people around them.

People can be bullied in many ways, of course. But, as evolutionary psychology would indicate, bullying patterns among adolescents closely reflect the traits associated with mate selection. Girls bully one another by impugning their attractiveness and their sexual fidelity — the two traits most sought after by males. Boy bullies, on the other hand, impugn the manliness, strength and wealth of rivals, in a similar play to establish dominance with regard to traits deemed desirable among girls.

The strategy works: Studies show that boys who bully other boys, on average, gain status with girls, who perceive the boys as more dominant. And girls who bully other girls, on average, receive more positive attention from boys.

As the aforementioned authors report, “Dominance has been found to be positively associated with both bullying and peer nominations of dating popularity among adolescents. Bullying is also positively correlated with peer nominations of power, social prominence, student and teacher ratings of perceived popularity and peer leadership” — all of which translate to social capital, which in turn means social or mating opportunities with the opposite sex.

Jonathan Kay

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