The Link Between Bullying and Popularity

Think about the popular jock walking in the hallway and spitting on a nerdy kid. Think the skinny cheerleader laughing loudly at the overweight girl that wants to sit with her at lunch. Think of teen shows and movies, like Mean Girls and Glee.

Now think about those, and then think about the possibility that these popularly reinforced views might actually be wrong.

A study done by the University of Carolina in 2014 that included more than 4,200 8th-10th grade students find that many students bullied do not fit into the normal stereotype. In fact, as a student moves up in the social hierarchy they are also likely to move up in chances of being victimized by their peers.

For this study, the researchers asked each of the 4,200 individuals to name their closest friends. After this survey they were able to crate a social map of the school, and locate each student in their school’s social network. They looked at how highly connective the student was; if they pulled the kid out of the mix, how much farther apart would everyone else be?

Next it was determined the student’s risk of being harassed. Each student was asked to name up to five people (s)he had been mean to, and up to five people who had been mean to them. This gave researchers both the victim and the bully’s perspective.

The findings came in, and popularity and frequency of harassment seemed to have a positive relationship. Not only did the more popular students get harassed more often, but also in more ways; physical violence, verbal abuse, and cyberbullying were all common.

Findings also showed that the consequences of bullying were greater for the higher status victims. This is likely not due to them being worse off, though, but rather because a single bullying incident will likely have a greater social/psychological consequence for them than it would for someone who falls more into the stereotypical category of someone likely to be bullied.

“Schools should be aware of this more subtle version of aggression and cruelty, and maybe it will hopefully challenge some of the stereotypical thinking of what a victim of bullying looks like,” Faris, one of the researchers, says. “There are kids who may appear to be popular and well-adjusted and so on that actually experience a lot of trauma as a result of this, what we call ‘social combat.'”