Bullying might be an evolutionary trait: SFU study

Dec 19 2017, 4:36 pm

A new study out of SFU suggests that bullying might be a result of psychological evolution to establish and maintain dominance.

“They have a predisposition – it’s a behaviour that’s giving them advantages and so it’s been something that gets perpetuated because they’re getting these benefits from it,” said study head and Assistant Criminology Professor at SFU Jennifer Wong.

Aggression has long been thought of as an advantageous trait that has helped humans to survive over the years, said Wong, so it makes sense that it would translate into bullying.

“Our ancestors would use aggression to defend their territory, to defend against intruders, to protect their young, to get the most fertile mate, so it’s been useful as a way to survive. So bullying could be something that’s along those lines.”

The study looked at four different measures: depression, self-esteem, social status and social anxiety.

Bullies came out on top in every category except social anxiety.

Wong said that this study just delivers preliminary results, since the sample size was small – one high school in Metro Vancouver, and approximately 135 students ages 13-16. She is currently trying to get more funding to expand the results.

Still, she believes we are looking at bullying the wrong way. Instead of teaching victims how to cope with the abuse, we need to allow bullies to filter their aggression in constructive ways.

“If it is the case that bullying gives these bullies advantages and it is a natural tendency to want to dominate, then we might want to think about the way we’re implementing intervention and prevention programs in schools.”

“So instead of trying to suppress a behaviour that might be natural in a way, we can try to redirect those behaviours to more constructive channels. We’d like to advocate for more supervised competitive activities in schools,” said Wong.

She said it will allow bullies to establish rank in a safer environment that does not involve victims.

One thing Wong wants to stress: this study in no way advocates for bullying or bullies.

“These results don’t suggest that bullying is ok. Research consistently demonstrates the extremely negative implications of bullying both for victims in the short term and the long term, and bullying itself is related to delinquency and crime.”