bullies have high social intelligence -- 2/28/18

Today's selection -- from Awkward by Ty Tashiro, PhD. Bullies have high social intelligence:

"Bullies exist at all ages. The prototypical playground bully pushes other kids out of the way in line, steals their lunch money, or mocks their differences. In adolescence, bullies might publicly insult peers lower in social power or spread gossip about those higher in power. Even in adulthood, there are bullies who try to take more than their fair share, manipulate others for their personal gain, or pick on people they perceive as less powerful. A survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 35 percent of employees had been bullied at work and another 15 percent witnessed work­place bullying, which was defined by repeated mistreatment and included behaviors such as threats, humiliation, and sabotaging employees' work.

"One of the most disconcerting findings about bullies of all ages is that they are not naive. The results of a number of studies suggest that bullies have a better-than-average capability to mind-read and use their social fluency to manipulate others to achieve selfish ends. Gianluca Gini and colleagues at the University of Padova investi­gated the assumption that bullies have poor moral reasoning, which is to say that they have trouble differentiating right versus wrong. In a sample of more than 700 nine-to-thirteen-year-old children, they looked at the differences in moral reasoning among bullies, victims, and defenders who intervene with bullies. They found that bullies' moral reasoning capabilities were just as sound as defenders' and that both groups had moral reasoning scores that were higher than victims', However, bullies showed significantly lower levels of com­passion and they were more likely to rationalize away their immoral behavior by seeing their selfish gains as taking precedence over the emotional costs incurred by victims.

"Bullies use their social fluency to target people who are less likely to retaliate. In a meta-analysis of 153 studies, Clayton Cook from the University of Washington and his colleagues from the University of California, Riverside, reviewed dozens of risk fac­tors for being bullied, including gender, race, low self-esteem, and stressful family environments. Although a number of factors were associated with the risk of being bullied, the strongest risk factors were low social competence and low peer status. For the awk­ward kid with low social competence and low peer status, it's an unfortunate circumstance because even though bullies might not be well liked by their peers, they often possess a good degree of social power and influence and tend to have a good understanding of social dynamics and the ability to be selectively charismatic.

"Awkward kids already have trouble navigating normal social expectations, so to go against the sophisticated manipulations bul­lies incorporate can feel entirely bewildering to them. Awkward children may not speak up about being bullied because bullies use methods of harassment that intentionally blur the lines between right and wrong. The awkward child might be uncertain about whether she is being wronged and even more uncertain about what to do.

"If bullying victims are lucky enough to have a defender stand up for them, then it's important they acknowledge the social capi­tal the defender risked. Rashmi Shetgiri at the University of Texas Medical Center found in a study of 354 sixth-to-tenth-grade stu­dents that defenders significantly increased their risk of being bul­lied by the bullies they confronted. This suggests that there are likely a limited number of times peers can intervene with people being bullied before they put themselves at risk for being bullied as well. It's important for victims to consider that the defender selectively spent his social capital. This means that awkward kids cannot rely upon defenders to continually absorb the social costs of defending them. The awkward kid has to figure out how to bolster his social competence and peer status, which is easier said than done. Also, in the interest of fairness and showing gratitude, awk­ward individuals would also do well to find subtle ways to return the favor or at least privately express gratitude to their defenders.

"Bullies don't go away in adulthood. Although some people who were formerly bullies change their ways, there is a growing body of research that shows that kids who were bullies tend to grow up to be adults who are bullies. They manifest as manipulative man­agers in the workplace, emotionally abusive partners, or criminals who steal or aggress to get what they want. The severest form of adult bullies are sociopaths who look to exploit others' goodwill for their personal gain while feeling no remorse for the people they harm. About 1 percent of the general population can be diagnosed as sociopathic, but roughly another 10 to 15 percent can be cate­gorized as selfish rather than pro-social. Some people are prone to being self-absorbed, greedy, or power hungry and will readily take more than their fair share from others.

"Of course, people who want to be kind and loyal have to be cautious about who they trust because bullies' actions can produce consequences that are heavily weighted. Yet people also need to be careful about becoming overly guarded or too pessimistic about human nature. This can be particularly true about awkward kids who have been on the receiving end of extensive bullying. It's easy to understand how children who are chronically bullied could de­velop a jaded view of others or become proactively aggressive to protect themselves, but that global resolve makes it hard to con­nect with the good people. For awkward and non-awkward people alike, it's tough to figure out how to protect themselves while also preserving their commitment to making themselves vulnerable through kindness and loyalty."

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Ty Tashiro, PhD






Copyright 2017 Ty Tashiro


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