Bullies Have Higher Sex Appeal and Social Status, Says Study

Bullying is the scourge of classrooms and workplaces across the world. However, a recent study claims that bullying is an inherited evolutionary advantage which builds social status and even sex appeal.

The study, performed by researchers at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and published earlier this month in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, found that bullying was an inherited trait. The finding lends weight to evolutionary psychology theory (EPT), which posits that certain traits or behaviours increase survival and reproductive chances and are therefore a result of evolution.

Jennifer Wong, criminology professor at Simon Fraser University and lead author of the study, told The National Post that bullies used aggressive behaviour as a "tool" which enables them to climb the social ladder. She added that, rather than trying to change the inherited attitudes and behaviours of bullies, anti-bullying programmes should offer competitive outlets by which the perpetrators can achieve the same social and psychological benefits.

According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), almost 45,000 children reported being bullied to their ChildLine service in 2013. In their 2015 survey of UK schools, Ditch the Label—a leading UK anti-bullying charity—found that 50 percent of young people have bullied another person, while 43 percent have been bullied themselves.

The Simon Fraser study used the Olweus Bully/Victim questionnaire—a standard survey for measuring bullying—to divide 135 secondary school students, aged 13 to 16, into one of four categories, one of which was for bullies. The pupils were then tested for levels of depression, self-esteem, social anxiety and their social status within the school community.

Bullies — which comprised around 11 percent of the total participants — were found to have markedly higher social status and self-esteem, as well as significantly lower levels of depression, than non-bullies, leading the researchers to suggest that bullying is an evolutionary adaption which brings mental and social benefits.

A 2007 study by researchers at King's College London also found that genetic factors accounted for 61 percent of the risk of a child becoming a bully, as well as 73 percent of their risk of being the victim of bullying, according to The Guardian.

The findings of these studies may lend weight to the evolutionary psychology theory (EPT), which posits that some behaviors, like bullying, are chosen by natural selection. However, Peter Bradley, a psychotherapist and director of UK anti-bullying charity Kidscape, says that EPT is "nonsense" and allows the behaviour of bullies to be justified. He says that bullies are generally "loners" with a desperate need to be accepted by others, a stance taken by anti-bullying groups.

A 2006 study by researchers at the University of Washington found that children who were exposed to violence in the home were more likely to engage in childhood bullying than those who came from stable families.