Bullying Behavior the Role of the Target

Bullying is perhaps the most poorly understood behavior problem in our schools. Both the motives of the bully and the role of the target are very badly misconstrued in most cases. This is true because the Theory of Evolution is excluded from commonly used behavior paradigms in the field of education.

What is the psychology of bullying? There is a field of study called Evolutionary Psychology that can give us a basis for answering this question. Stated briefly this field holds that behavior is equally subject to evolutionary selection as physical features are. The counter argument is called the Standard Social Science Model and it asserts that for unguessable reasons behavior is not an evolved trait in humans. SSSM is dominant in education.

Humans evolved to live in culturally defined, as opposed to kinship-based, tribal groups. Such tribes require conformity; if belief and cultural behavior is what defines the group and holds it together then allowing members to just do their own thing is highly damaging to the group and its members. Humans are conformists by evolved design, and we have many evolved behaviors to enforce conformity. Among these are gossiping about non-conforming behaviors, shunning, violence, exiling and murder. All of these behaviors are “human universals,” as defined by Brown in his book by that title. This means they are found in all known human societies.

Two facts show us the way here. First, schools that begin school uniform programs have marked drops in behavior problems, including bullying. Second, most school bullies are among the most popular kids in school. Only a minority of bullies are unpopular “troubled” kids. So we see that increasing forced conformity reduces bullying and that bullies most often are not “anti-social” at all but in fact are the most social. They are at the top of the student hierarchy.

Bullies most often are enforcing conformity to the school tribal group, and they do so in the ways evolution gave us. It may also be that evolution would select for groups that pushed out weak and cowardly members, who would effectively free-ride on the bravery and strength of the others in the group otherwise.

So finally we get to the role of the target. The target who does not conform, is weak or cowardly, these are the kids who get bullied repeatedly. Kids will be tested, especially early in a school year, to see if they are cowards or too weak. Think of it as an annual initiation ceremony.

I was extremely small for a boy, I am only 5’4″ now and until age 13 no one thought I would be taller than 5′ full-grown. But I avoided being the target of continual bullying by being willing to go toe-to-toe with anyone of any size once. Far better to be beaten once and hold your head high than be a target for years. I still got some grief because I was a non-conformist, but I could handle it.

Kids who are continually bullied need to take action on their own behalf. No one else can do this for you. Decide to conform more (at least outwardly), start exercising to become stronger, decide to stand up and get beat down without crying or running…or beat them up if you can. Or realize that you have chosen this reality, that your tormentors are just doing what evolution is telling them to do.