02/08/2011 04:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

UC Davis Study: Popular Kids Aren't The Bullies

A new study discredits the archetypical bully image as a letter jacket-wearing jock or a pack of vicious girls. It's actually the fence-sitters -- the kids who stand the most to gain -- who are the biggest aggressors.

The most popular students don't have to use bullying to work their way up, and less popular kids typically just aren't as aggressive, says study co-author Robert W. Faris, a sociology professor at the University of California, Davis.

And there's a logical explanation, Education Week reports:

"Our interpretation is, kids view this as a means to an end. Once they get to the top, they no longer need to be aggressive. Aggression could be counterproductive: It could signal insecurity," Mr. Faris said.

The research is due out February 8 in the American Sociological Review. Faris and co-author Diane Felmlee spent years surveying students in North Carolina.

Live Science points to the fact that the distinction in the study lies in the fact that much of the preceding bullying research focuses on student bullies' personal characteristics.

"Faris and Felmlee were interested not in individual traits, but in the social networks where bullying takes place."

The Washington Post points out that educators would be wise to take note of these nuances.

"The results, Davis said, have implications for bullying prevention efforts. Anti-bullying programs at schools should pay attention to more subtle and insidious forms of harassment, and appreciate how aggressive behaviors are rooted in status."