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Davis, California

Saturday, July 20, 2024

Not so innocent bystander

Bullying has often been associated with school and has been a concern for many, especially with the recent development of cyber-bullying. However, a side of the bullying problem that is not often explored is how the bullies themselves are perceived by bystanders.

In a study by Jaana Juvonen, a professor in the Department of Psychology at UCLA, 2,000 ethnically diverse students across 99 classrooms from 11 middle schools located in the Los Angeles area were asked who was the “coolest,” who starts fights or pushes other kids around and who spreads nasty rumors about other kids. Interestingly, the children who were most associated with aggressive behavior were also considered the “coolest.”

“Past studies have shown a robust association between aggression and popularity and we wanted to design a study that focused on extending this work by better understanding the direction of influence between aggression and popularity and to test whether there might be gender differences,” said Guadalupe Espinoza, a UCLA psychology doctoral student and coauthor of the study.

These questions were designed in such a way to show a correlation between “the cool kids” and the bullies. The questions were designed to insure that the students questioned would not feel confused and that the results would be clear for the study.

“The survey had questions designed to ensure children were thinking about specific attributes and behaviors involved in popularity and bullying when the children identified specific people,” said Dorje Jennette, a psychologist as UC Davis Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). “This makes the survey more valid than simply asking the children if they saw a relationship between popularity and bullying in general.”

Another interesting finding of the study was that both the boys and girls who bullied were associated with both malicious behaviors.

“The ones who are cool bully more, and the ones who bully more are seen as cool,” Juvonen said. “What was particularly interesting was that the form of aggression, whether highly visible and clearly confrontational or not, did not matter. Pushing or shoving and gossiping worked the same for boys and girls.”

Of course, this aggressive behavior is not random, and it comes from a source.

“Some kids might be desperate enough to be seen as cool that they engage in some bullying behaviors to enhance their own image by making other people seem less cool,” Jennette said. “But it could have been possible to be seen as even cooler if they hadn’t engaged in any bullying in the first place.”

Bullying campaigns have attempted to stop bullying from happening in schools for a long time, however it still happens everyday.

“We know that effective anti-bullying programs shouldn’t just target the bully or the victim, but should rather take a schoolwide approach and also focus on the bystanders,” Espinoza said. “These are the individuals who see the bullying take place and they play a critical role and can either encourage or discourage bullying.”

KELLY MITCHELL can be reached at science@theaggie.org.


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