TUESDAY, Feb. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Teens who are already popular but trying to become even more so are the most likely to bully other kids, new research suggests.
The kids seem to think that antagonizing others will raise their own status in the eyes of their peers, according to the study, published in the February issue of the American Sociological Review.
Researchers asked about 3,700 students in 8th, 9th and 10th grades from three counties in North Carolina about their behavior toward others and how often they were the target of physical aggression, verbal aggression (such as teasing or threats), rumors or indirect bullying (such as ostracism). Teens were also asked how often they did this to a classmate.
The study team, which followed students over one school year, also asked kids to name their top five friends, then used that data to determine which kids were the most popular and at the center of the school's social network.
Kids who were at the top of the social pecking order, but not at the very top, were the most likely to tease or be aggressive toward others.
"Status increases aggression," said lead study author Robert Faris, an assistant professor of sociology at University of California, Davis. "For a long time, people perceived aggression as a maladjusted reaction to problems at home or mental health issues, but our research is consistent with the idea it's a nasty underbelly to social hierarchies. Aggression is perceived to be a way of getting ahead."
In fact, bullying peaked at the 98th percentile of popularity and then dropped for the most popular kids -- the top 2 percent -- perhaps because they no longer feel the need to put others down to improve their own status.
The average aggression rate, or the number of classmates they teased or bullied, for kids at the 98th percentile was 28 percent greater than for students at the v
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