The study was published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence and is against the general view of bullies as people who lash out because they have been abused or hurt in their personal lives.
Should the idea catch on, it will mean a huge re-thinking of the way schools deal with bullies.
Jennifer Wong, a criminology professor and lead author of the study, said it’s in human nature to form hierarchies, especially in a school setting, When someone wants to climb through the ranks quickly. bullying can help accomplish that goal.
Wong reviewed studies on bullying for her PhD thesis and concluded that programs that try to change a bully’s behaviour often don’t work because the inherent tendency to bully must be genetic, rather than learned,
To arrive at this radical conclusion about bullying behaviour, Wong and student Jun-Bin Koh talked to 135 students at a Vancouver high school. The survey categorized students as a bully, victim, bystander or bully-victim based on how often they’re involved in “bullying interactions” like hitting, kicking and shoving.
In the four analyzed categories of depression, self-esteem, social status, and social anxiety, Wong found that bullies — about 11 percent of the 135 students — scored higher than the other three groups on social status and self-esteem, while scoring lowest on depression.
Wong says the research is not definitive due to the small sample size, but hopes to reproduce the results on a greater scale.
The research has some support from another recent study, this one by Brock University psychologist Tony Volk. It found bullies are actually getting more sex than the other groups of people, according to the 178 teenagers Volk interviewed.
The conclusions are likely to see some resistance, particularly from anti-bullying groups. A pilot project in Arizona identified bullies and gave them big “jobs” around the school, like greeters at the front door. Bullying levels reportedly fell “dramatically.”
Rob Frenette, co-founder of the Bullying Canada organization, told the National Post called the results of Wong’s study “kind of stepping backward” and that he has yet to see a bully who doesn’t have some kind of internal issue.
Wong nevertheless asks schools to reconsider how they deal with bullies, suggesting adding more competition will give bullies a better outlet for their behaviour.