Bullying Confers Benefits, Says Mean New Study

Photo: Matt Salacuse Photo: Matthew Salacuse

We’d like to think that bullies, after spending a few years tormenting those below them in the social hierarchy, end up paying a price for their behavior.

That’s why bullies’ comeuppance is such a standard trope in teen movies — it fuels our sense of justice. But new research suggests the opposite: Those who bullied during their younger years actually enjoy health benefits that can extend decades into the future, perhaps because of the enhanced social status being a jerk can bring.

In a collaborative study led by researchers at Duke University School of Medicine and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team used a data set that tracked 1,420 individuals for more than two decades, culling information on who had bullied or been bullied as an adolescent (which had been determined via structured interviews), as well as health data from later in life. They found that even long after their school days, former bullies had lower levels of a form of inflammation associated with metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

The victims, on the other hand, endured higher levels, which fits right in with what a different set of researchers found in a study released last month in the American Journal of Psychiatry. They followed more than 18,000 British participants born in 1958, and discovered that, even controlling for other factors likely to cause trouble (low childhood IQ, being born to poor parents, and so on), those who were bullied during childhood fared much worse on a variety of psychological measures, including susceptibility to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

Given the apparent benefits of bullying, it’s a good thing most teenage sociopaths steer clear of scientific journals.