Could bullying be genetic?

The next time a child gets bullied, can the perpetrator blame it on his genes? New research from Simon Fraser University in Canada is stirring up debate with its suggestion that bullying is an inherited trait that actually helps build social rank and sex appeal.

The National Post interviewed criminology professor Jennifer Wong about her research, which surveyed a group of Vancouver high school students and found that bullies were the least likely to be depressed and had the highest social status.

“When you’re in high school, it’s a very limited arena in which you can establish your rank, and climbing the social ladder to be on top is one of the main ways,” Wong told the newspaper. “Bullying is a tool you can use to get there.”

Wong says most anti-bullying programs that try to change the behavior of the bullies don’t work.

Perhaps even more provocative is her recommendation that, instead of trying to change how bullies think, schools should expand the range of competitive, supervised activities they can participate in — giving them a less harmful channel for their dominating tendencies.

Some anti-bullying advocates, though, say the evolutionary psychology theory — that certain behaviors increase survival and reproduction chances and thus are the result of evolution — are just a way to justify bad behavior.

Read the full National Post story here, and Newsweek’s European edition here.

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