Scientists have confirmed an axiom of teenage life: Kids intent on climbing the social ladder at school are more likely to pick on their fellow students.
The finding, reported in Tuesday's edition of the American Sociological Review, lends an air of authenticity to TV shows like "Gossip Girl" and the 2004 movie "Mean Girls." More importantly, it may suggest that efforts to combat bullying in schools should focus more closely on social hierarchies.
"By and large, status increases aggression," said sociologist Robert Faris of UC Davis, who led the study.
Faris and a colleague studied the relationships among 3,722 middle and high school students over the course of an academic year and found that the teenagers' propensity toward aggression rose along with their social status. Aggressive behavior peaked when students hit the 98th percentile for popularity, suggesting that they were working hard to claw their way to the very top.
However, those who were in the top 2% of a school's social hierarchy generally didn't harass their fellow students. At that point, they may have had little left to gain by being mean, and picking on others only made them seem insecure, Faris said.
In cases where aggression occurred, students classified the events as physical attacks, direct verbal harassment or indirect offenses like spreading rumors or ostracizing classmates.
Source: Los Angeles Times