The Most Popular Kids Are Like Benign Dictators

High school bullying peaks among those in the 98th percentile of coolness--the very coolest can afford to be nice

This article is from the archive of our partner .

You have to be mean to climb the social ranks in high school. But once you claw your way to the very top, you have to chill out a little bit. Get nicer. Be a benign dictator. Delegate the nastiness to your subordinates. That seems to be the message, at least.

Researchers at the University of California-Davis conducted a series of studies on 3,722 kids between eighth and tenth grade, The New York Times' Tara Parker-Pope reports, and found that bullying peaks among students in the 98th percentile of popularity. Above that, cruelty drops off. Robert Faris, who authored the study, says that, sure, it could be that the most popular kids are just popular because they're so darned nice. But probably not. "The interpretation I favor is that they no longer need to be aggressive because they're at the top" Faris says, "and further aggression could be counterproductive, signaling insecurity with their social position."

High school life is less like Carrie and more like Mean Girls--the social carnage rains down upon the popular crowd far more than it does on marginalized loners. Why would a kid waste her time picking on an untouchable nerd when she could ascend the popularity ladder by taking out her slightly-cooler BFF? Faris says kids "in the middle to upper ranges of status" are the most bullied as they jockey for position within the high school heirarchy.

Schools and parents should let go of the stereotype that bullies are little cat-torturing psychopaths. "We need to direct more attention to how aggression is interwoven into the social fabric of these schools," Faris says.

[H/T Daily Intel]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.