Explaining the mean girls (and boys)

A study from the most recent American Sociological Review is getting attention because of its finding that popular kids in middle and high school are more likely to be mean:

[A] paper released Tuesday in the American Sociological Review, which found that the more central you are to your school’s social network, the more aggressive you are as well — unless you’re at the top of the heap, in which case you’re more likely to give your peers a break.

“By and large, status increases aggression, until you get to the very top,” said the study’s lead author, UC Davis sociologist Robert Faris. “When kids become more popular, later on they become more aggressive.”

Three larger trends seem to be converging in this research: analyzing social networks of teenagers/emerging adults while also looking into bullying/aggressive behavior.

The network analysis is based on a measure common now to sociological surveys and research:

Faris and UC Davis sociology Professor Diane Felmlee followed almost 4,000 middle and high school students in three North Carolina counties, asking each child to name their five best friends. They were also asked to identify up to five people they bullied and five classmates who picked on them.

The researchers mapped each student’s popularity based on their personal relationships and compared it to aggressive behavior.

I’m curious to know if this analysis would also apply to adults.

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