Bullying, whether it's physical aggression or spreading rumors, boosts the social status and popularity of middle school students, according to a new UCLA psychology study that has implications for programs aimed at combatting school bullying. In addition, students already considered popular engage in these forms of bullying, the researchers found.
The psychologists studied 1,895 ethnically diverse students from 99 classes at 11 Los Angeles middle schools. They conducted surveys at three points: during the spring of seventh grade, the fall of eighth grade and the spring of eighth grade. Each time, students were asked to name the students who were considered the "coolest," the students who "start fights or push other kids around" and the ones who "spread nasty rumors about other kids."
Those students who were named the coolest at one time were largely named the most aggressive the next time, and those considered the most aggressive were significantly more likely to be named the coolest the next time. The results indicate that both physical aggression and spreading rumors are rewarded by middle school peers.
"The ones who are cool bully more, and the ones who bully more are seen as cool," said Jaana Juvonen, a UCLA professor of psychology and lead author of the study. "What was particularly interesting was that the form of aggression, whether highly visible and clearly confrontational or not, did not matter. Pushing or shoving and gossiping worked the same for boys and girls.
"The impetus for the study was to figure out whether aggression promotes social status, or whether those who are perceived as popular abuse their social power and prestige by putting other kids down," she said. "We found it works both ways for both 'male-typed' and 'female-typed' forms of aggression."…
The study implies that anti-bullying programs have to be sophisticated and subtle to succeed.
"A simple message, such as 'Bullying is not tolerated,' is not likely to be very effective," Juvonen said, when bullying often increases social status and respect.
Effective anti-bullying programs need to focus on the bystanders, who play a critical role and can either encourage or discourage bullying, said Juvonen, who has conducted research on bullying since the mid-1990s and serves as a consultant to schools on anti-bullying programs. Bystanders should be made aware of the consequences of spreading rumors and encouraging aggression and the damage bullying creates, she said.
Juvonen J, Wang Y, Espinoza G. Physical aggression, spreading of rumors, and social prominence in early adolescence: reciprocal effects supporting gender similarities? J Youth Adolesc. 2013 Dec;42(12):1801-10.
There is a robust association between aggression and social prominence by early adolescence, yet findings regarding the direction of influence remain inconclusive in light of gender differences across various forms of aggressive behaviors. The current study examined whether physical aggression and spreading of rumors, as two gender-typed aggressive behaviors that differ in overt displays of power, promote and/or maintain socially prominent status for girls and boys during non-transitional grades in middle school. Peer nominations were used to assess physical aggression, spreading of rumors, and "cool" reputation (social prominence) during three time points between the spring of seventh grade and spring of eighth grade. Participants included 1,895 (54 % female) ethnically diverse youth: 47 % Latino, 22 % African-American, 11 % Asian, 10 % White and 10 % Other/Mixed ethnic background. Cross-lagged path analyses were conducted to test the directionality of the effects, and gender moderation was assessed by relying on multi-group analyses. The analyses revealed mainly reciprocal associations for each form of aggression, suggesting that boys, as well as girls, can both gain and maintain their status by spreading rumors about their peers, just as they do by physically fighting and pushing others in urban middle schools. The implications of the findings for interventions are discussed.
Juvonen J, Graham S, Schuster MA. Bullying among young adolescents: the strong, the weak, and the troubled. Pediatrics. 2003 Dec;112(6 Pt 1):1231-7.
Bullying and being bullied have been recognized as health problems for children because of their association with adjustment problems, including poor mental health and more extreme violent behavior. It is therefore important to understand how bullying and being bullied affect the well-being and adaptive functioning of youth. We sought to use multiple data sources to better understand the psychological and social problems exhibited by bullies, victims, and bully-victims.
DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS:
Analysis of data from a community sample of 1985 mostly Latino and black 6th graders from 11 schools in predominantly low socioeconomic status urban communities (with a 79% response rate).
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:
Peer reports of who bullies and who is victimized, self-reports of psychological distress, and peer and teacher reports of a range of adjustment problems.
Twenty-two percent of the sample was classified as involved in bullying as perpetrators (7%), victims (9%), or both (6%). Compared with other students, these groups displayed school problems and difficulties getting along with classmates. Despite increased conduct problems, bullies were psychologically strongest and enjoyed high social standing among their classmates. In contrast, victims were emotionally distressed and socially marginalized among their classmates. Bully-victims were the most troubled group, displaying the highest level of conduct, school, and peer relationship problems.
To be able to intervene with bullying, it is important to recognize the unique problems of bullies, victims, and bully-victims. In addition to addressing these issues directly with their patients, pediatricians can recommend school-wide antibullying approaches that aim to change peer dynamics that support and maintain bullying.