Children who overestimate their popularity less likely to be bullies

Children who overestimate their popularity are less likely to be bullies than those who underestimate or hold more accurate assessments of their social standing, finds new research to be presented at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

"The more kids overestimated their popularity, the less they displayed," said Jennifer Watling Neal, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University. "This means that kids who were more accurate in their assessment of their number of friends or who underestimated their quantity of friends compared to peer report were more aggressive."

Past research has suggested that children who believe they are more competent or well liked than their peers or teachers view them are more aggressive. "But our research suggests there are certain types of positive perceptual biases that have a 'bright side,'" said Neal, who co-authored the study with Elise Cappella, an assistant professor of applied at New York University. "When kids say they have more friends than their peers say they have, those children are actually less aggressive."

This finding was true for both overtly (e.g., hitting, kicking, or threatening to beat up others) and relationally (e.g., excluding others or spreading rumors) .

The study relied on a survey of 421, mostly African American, second through fourth graders from five public elementary schools in an urban midwestern city. The survey, which was administered in individual classrooms, provided students with the opportunity to identify their friends and the friends of their peers in the class in which they were surveyed. Students also identified who were .

"Children who overestimated their popularity compared to peer report were less likely to be nominated by their peers as overtly or relationally aggressive," Neal said.

The researchers said there could be several reasons why students who overestimate their popularity do not feel the need to bully others. "Kids who overestimate their social connections may also perceive that more are watching and judging their behaviors," Neal said. "Children may be less likely to engage in aggressive behaviors that may be observed by, and place into jeopardy, their perceived social connections."

Another possible reason is that students who overestimate their social connections may be nice, sociable kids who believe they are friends with everyone. "On the other hand, aggressive children—especially those who use forms of aggression such as rumor spreading—may be more exclusive in who they report as their friends, leading to less overestimation," Neal said.

As for why some students overestimate their social connections, Neal said, "Kids naturally vary in their ability to accurately perceive classroom and their own social positions in the classroom. It's not surprising that some children think they have a lot more friends than they actually do."

More information: The paper, "The Bright Side of Positive Perceptual Bias: Children's Estimations of Network Centrality and Aggression," will be presented on Monday, Aug. 12, at 4:30 p.m. EDT in New York City at the American Sociological Association's 108th Annual Meeting.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study: Children may be aware of popularity by 3rd grade

Sep 06, 2012

(Phys.org)—Children's social goals at the beginning of a school year may predict whether they'll be more popular – or less popular – by the end of that academic year, a new study conducted at the University of Illinois ...

Study of childhood bullying shifts focus to victims

Aug 30, 2011

Many wonder why bullies bully, but a new study looks at the other side of the equation: How do children respond to bullying and why? The answer, researchers say, may lead to more effective interventions to ...

'Cool' kids in middle school bully more, psychologists report

Jan 24, 2013

Bullying, whether it's physical aggression or spreading rumors, boosts the social status and popularity of middle school students, according to a new UCLA psychology study that has implications for programs aimed at combatting ...

Recommended for you

Intervention program helps prevent high-school dropouts

21 hours ago

New research findings from a team of prevention scientists at Arizona State University demonstrates that a family-focused intervention program for middle-school Mexican American children leads to fewer drop-out rates and ...

Bilingualism over the lifespan

23 hours ago

It's a scene that plays out every day in Montreal. On the bus, in schools, in the office and at home, conversations weave seamlessly back and forth between French and English, or one of the many other languages represented ...

User comments