Children who overestimate their popularity less likely to be bullies

August 10, 2013

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."

Explore further: Five-year olds choose to 'play nice' based on other kids' reputations

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.

Related Stories

Study of childhood bullying shifts focus to victims

August 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 reduce the negative ...

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

January 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 ...

Playground peers can predict adult personalities

September 20, 2012

Even on the playground, our friends know us better than we know ourselves. New research has revealed that your childhood peers from grade school may be able to best predict your success as an adult.

Recommended for you

Elderly may face increased dementia risk after a disaster

October 24, 2016

Elderly people who were uprooted from damaged or destroyed homes and who lost touch with their neighbors after the 2011 tsunami in Japan were more likely to experience increased symptoms of dementia than those who were able ...

Research examines role of early-life stress in adult illness

October 24, 2016

Scientists have long known that chronic exposure to psychosocial stress early in life can lead to an increased vulnerability later in life to diseases linked to immune dysfunction and chronic inflammation, including arthritis, ...

Plan ahead for successful aging, researcher says

October 20, 2016

For many people, the prospect of aging is scary and uncomfortable, but Florida State University Assistant Professor Dawn Carr says that research reveals a few tips that can improve our chances of a long, healthy life.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.