The Coolest Kids Are Also The Biggest Bullies Says New Study

A recent study reports the not-too-surprising finding that the kids ranked by their classmates as the “coolest” also were ranked by their classmates as the biggest bullies.  The type of bullying seemed irrelevant according to the studies’ findings – gossiping was just as correlated with coolness as physical pushing or shoving.  Researchers aren’t sure of the causal link between being cool and being a bully.  Do kids already perceived as cool bully, or do kids who bully become cooler in their peers’ eyes?  Regardless of the answer, researchers hope that the new findings will lead to better preventive measures against bullying the future.  Read on for the full story.



A new study from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) revealed that “cool” kids in middle school had a tendency to participate in bullying more than others.

Bullying was defined as either “starting fights or pushing other kids around” or “spreading nasty rumors about other kids.” The UCLA psychology study found that bullying could help improve an individual’s social status and popularity among middle school students. In addition, students who were already considered popular utilized these forms of bullying.

The researchers believe that the findings of the study, which were recently published in the online edition of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, could help school administrators and anti-bullying programs improve their tactics for eliminating school bullying.

“The ones who are cool bully more, and the ones who bully more are seen as cool,” explained the study’s lead author Jaana Juvonen, a professor of psychology at UCLA. “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.”

In the project, the researchers observed 1,895 ethnically diverse students from 11 Los Angeles middle schools. The students were dispersed across 99 different classes, with investigators conducting surveys at the start of the seventh grade, the fall of eight grade, and the spring of eight grade. During each of the three surveys, the students filled out questionnaires asking them to name the students who were thought to be the “coolest,” the students who usually started fights or pushed other students around, and those who spread mean rumors about other students.

Students who were considered “coolest” at some time during the study were also found to be the most aggressive the next time, and individuals who were named the most aggressive had a higher likelihood of being considered the coolest. The findings indicate that middle school kids reward both physical aggression and the spreading of nasty rumors.

“The impetus for the study was to figure out whether aggression promotes social status, or whether those who are perceived as popular abuse their social power and prestige by putting other kids down,” continued Juvonen, who has also served as a consultant to schools on anti-bullying programs. “We found it works both ways for both ‘male-typed’ and ‘female-typed’ forms of aggression.”

The outcomes of the research also show that anti-bullying programs need to be developed with sophistication and subtly to make an impact on students. The researchers propose that anti-bullying programs target bystanders whose responses to such incidents could help to either increase or decrease the interest in bullying.

“A simple message, such as ‘Bullying is not tolerated,’ is not likely to be very effective,” noted Juvonen in the statement.

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