Popularity’s arms race

A recent study in the American Sociological Review suggests the more central a teenager is to his or her school’s social network, the more likely that student is to engage in aggressive behavior. Interestingly enough, this is not the case for those who have already reached the top of the social ladder.

The study asked approximately 3,700 students in three North Carolina counties to list their five best friends, five people they had picked on, five people who had picked on them, and questions about the type of aggression, whether it was physical, verbal, ostracism, etc. The researchers also controlled for other variables that may influence aggression including socioeconomic background, GPA and physical development, LiveScience reports.

According to HealthDay, bullying reached its peak at the 98th percentile of popularity, followed by a drop off for the top two percent. Lead researcher, UC Davis sociologist Robert Faris, explains the most popular kids may be less aggressive because they have nothing to gain by being mean toward other students, in fact they may benefit from being nice.

The average aggression rate for kids in the 98th percentile was 28 percent greater than the rate for students at the very bottom and 40 percent greater than those at the very top.

67 percent of kids were not aggressive toward anyone. Faris recommends that anti-bullying programs should also target this majority, explaining to HealthDay, “The bystanders give people their status, and they can decide to reward aggression or scorn it.”

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