Popularity: The other kind of vulnerability

A study cited in “When Popularity Backfires” at Time.com found that socially ambitious kids can be just as likely to experience bullying and harassment as “social outcasts” at school. Interested in the “hotspots” of social aggression in students’ social experiences at school, sociology professors Robert Faris at University of California Davis and Diane Felmlee at Pennsylvania State University “investigated whether there were other reasons for students’ aggression toward one another, such as using it as a tool for social climbing,” Time reports. They looked at changes in social status (or lack thereof) for 4,200 students in grades 8-10 through a school year and found that, “not only were the socially mobile and relatively more popular students victimized more than the socially stable teens, they were also more sensitive to the effects of bullying. They reported higher rates of anxiety, depression, and anger, and lower rates of feeling central to their social group,” according to Time (their methodology is detailed in the article).

Faris and Felmlee’s research in this area started in the last decade (I last wrote about it in February 2011, linking to New York Times coverage). It was a first look at the relationship between bullying (or, more broadly, social aggression) and school “drama,” which got national media attention, thanks to social media researchers danah boyd and Alice Marwick. Faris and Falmlee challenge stereotypes about bullying and vulnerability, showing that most social aggression is aimed at social rivals, and – in this kind of victimization – it’s the kids looking to change their social status who are most vulnerable.

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