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School Bullies Often Popular, Survey Finds

FRIDAY, Feb. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Middle school students who bully are often the most popular, a new study has found.

And the results were the same whether it was boys or girls who spread rumors, started fights or pushed other students around.

For the study, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, surveyed nearly 1,900 students in 99 classes at 11 Los Angeles middle schools. The surveys, conducted at different points during grades 7 and 8, asked the participants to name the students who were considered the "coolest" and the ones who were bullies.

The students who were named the coolest were also often named the most aggressive, and those considered the most aggressive were much more likely to be named the coolest. The findings suggest that bullying and popularity go hand in hand.

"The ones who are cool bully more, and the ones who bully more are seen as cool," study lead author Jaana Juvonen, a professor of psychology, said in a UCLA news release. "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 study was released online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

The findings suggest that anti-bullying programs have to be subtle and sophisticated to succeed, Juvonen said.

"A simple message, such as 'bullying is not tolerated,' is not likely to be very effective" when bullying often increases a student's popularity, she noted in the news release.

Juvonen suggested that effective anti-bullying programs might need to be aimed at the bystanders, who play an important role and can either encourage or discourage bullying. Bystanders need to be made aware of the harm that bullying can do, she said.

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