The research-backed claim that people who bully others are jealous or have low self-esteem has long been theorized to be a possible explanation for cruel behavior, but a new study from Simon Fraser University presents findings that appear to dispute this long-standing belief. Researchers found, in a small survey of high school students, that those who bullied actually had higher-than-average rates of self-esteem.
Are Bullies at the Top of the Social Hierarchy?
A 2014 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 27% of employees have been bullied at work, and 52% of children and teens report experiencing cyberbullying. Past studies have shown that people who experience mental health concerns are more likely to be identified as bullies, which suggests that bullying might often occur as a result of untreated depression, anger, or anxiety, with those who bully continuing a cycle of abuse by lashing out at others.
All students were then assessed on four dimensions of mental health: depression, social status, self-esteem, and social anxiety. The teens who had been categorized as bullies were found to have the highest levels of self-esteem. They were also more popular than their victims and their peers who did not bully, and they had the lowest rates of depression.
A separate study by a Brock University psychologist surveyed 178 teenagers and found similar results. This study also found that the teens who bullied others were more sexually active than their peers.
The Bullying Debate Continues
The authors of the Vancouver study argue that their results demonstrate a genetic basis for bullying. The fact that those who bully others tend to be more popular than their peers, they suggest, indicates that bullying can produce higher social status, therefore demonstrating that the behavior has been shaped by evolution. Neither study tested for a genetic basis for bullying or explored whether bullying affected the evolutionary fitness of human ancestors. The study’s authors have said that more research is needed before the findings can be considered definitive.
Anti-bullying advocates generally support the belief that bullying is the product of a complex interaction between personality, environment, early experiences, and relationships with peers, and they work to reduce bullying by attempting to help individuals who bully resolve these issues and adjust their behaviors. A 2012 study—which followed 64,000 children—found that those who bullied other children were more than twice as likely as those who did not bully others to experience mental health issues. It did not find that they had a higher social status than their peers.
- 2014 WBI U.S. workplace bullying survey February 2014. (2014, February). Retrieved from http://www.workplacebullying.org/wbiresearch/wbi-2014-us-survey
- Cyber bullying statistics 2014. (2014, February 24). Retrieved from http://nobullying.com/cyber-bullying-statistics-2014
- Koh, J., & Wong, J. S. (2015). Survival of the fittest and the sexiest: Evolutionary origins of adolescent bullying. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Doi:10.1177/0886260515593546
- Salahi, L. (2012, October 22). Bullies nearly twice as likely to have mental health disorder. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/bullies-mental-health-disorder/story?id=17518230
- Study: Bullies have higher self-esteem, lower depression rates. (2015, July 28). Retrieved from http://atlanta.cbslocal.com/2015/07/28/study-bullies-have-higher-self-esteem-lower-depression-rates
© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.