Evolution and Bullying.

I have been thinking about this for a while. And I may have even read something about it someplace–although I honestly don’t recall, and doubt it.

But could there be an evolutionary reason for bullying? Think about it. Bullying is not necessary now (something I can’t emphasize enough now–I certainly am not defending it). But thousands of years ago, demeaning/avoiding someone who is genetically different may have been the whole reason the human race ended up the way it did.

Also, I have noticed, the people who are most often bullied in school, etc. tend to be mentally different, for various reasons. Intelligence is the hallmark of the human race. Could this be the reason why?

Once again, I am not defending bullying. And it is not necessary now (we after all have things like genetic counseling to deal with the matter).


Can’t quite grasp what you’re saying here - are you saying bullies are more intelligent than the people they bully?

They’re certainly more intelligent than the people they bully, usually. My question, though, mainly deals with bullying itself–and how people in the norm (if that’s helpful) use it to exclude people who aren’t.

You’ve never heard of a bully beating up a nerd?

It does seem to suggest tribal “alpha male” behavior.

No, the Alpha Male takes on the biggest badass in the group; not the weakest.

My name is Bob, and I’m a nerd.

Bullies are *ssholes who can think of no better way to increase their standing in the peer group than to pick on the weak and helpless. Mind you, nerds are socially awkward, too at that age, but most of us eventually figure out how not to be. Bullies are cowards who are desperate for others top see them as special. Beating up someone who’s smarter than you are is a way of saying “See? Being smart didn’t save you from a beat-down, now did it?” Nerds really don’t have much else to fight back with besides their wits, and wits are particularly useless against a bully who thinks you just made everyone laugh at him.

Of course, bullies don’t just pick on nerds, but kids who are just small for their age, not masculine or feminine enough, just about any deviation from the “norm” means that they can define themselves by picking on everybody who isn’t one of them (and can’t effectively fight back.

Back when we cowtowed to the guy who could forge alliances among the strong and browbeat everybody else, bullies had a breeding advantage. Nowadays, not so much in Western cultures but just about anywhere else, being the tough guy with tough friends (Qaddaffi and Kim Jong Il to name just two) still means you have access to the best resources, the most women, etc.

There is some basis for bullies to have an advantage over others, but that is less likely when the others are able to group together and keep the bullies in check.

The alpha male has an instinct to assert dominance. As with war and politics, there is no code of honor in the real world - if you get other people to do what you want, you win.

It seems to me that the bullying of mentally deficient people is almost non-existant. In fact, people go out of their way to not appear to be mean to mentally deficient people. It also seems to me that socially awkward people who are otherwise perfectly capable (and often quite a bit more than capable) mentally are the biggest targets of bullying. Therefore, I challenge the OP to provide a convincing argument that bullies are typically smarter than their targets.

The stereotype of dumb bully pics on smart nerd is a fairly narrow slice of the dominance pie. People, including females, play a variety of dominance games from subtle to overt. There are smart bulies and dumb bullies, and smart nerds and dumb nerds. Striving for status is part of our genome.

Wave Hi, Bob.

Haha. My name is JoyAnn and I’m a nerd. :o

I’m trying to think of who bullied me and where they are now…yeah…they are of little consequence to society.

I am not a bully, but I am manipulative. I’d like to think it gets me places. :wink:

I think you misspelled “rarely.”

I think your starting assumption is flawed in several ways.

First, bullying behaviour is not universal - that it is broadley spread in some countries, and not in others, shows that it depends on how society and adults react to it, and how much/little value society places on harmony / getting along, or what qualities are respected (machoness or smartness.

Second, Bullies are generally not smarter than their victims. Not because of stereotype, but according to sociological and psychological research. Partly bullying behaviour is lack of empathy and carelessness, but often it’s also self-esteem issues: the easiest way to feel good about yourself is picking on people perceived as inferior.

Third, what actually was an evolutionary advantage for pre-humans and humans was cooperation. Regardless of the myth of “the strongest survive” and “it’s everybody against everybody, every man for himself”, people who really understand evolution and study human apes and human groups will tell you that the only way to survive against fierce predators is cooperation (that’s how chimps deal with leopards: all together throw sticks and stones; rugged individuals are eaten).

That’s why language is such an advantage: it allows cooperation.

You can also see two different strategies of group behaviour when you compare different human ape groups: chimps fight among themselves; bonobos make sex to keep peace.

This leads me to alpha male: true, having a hierarchy with an alpha at the top is almost hard-wired into humans from our ancestors. But that doesn’t mean that the alpha bullies the beta, the beta bullies the next lower ones, activly. Studies have shown that good alphas - better survival for the group, less challenges = less stress, longer life - have a harmonic wise leadership. Yes, if one individual steps out of his place in the line - eats food before the alpha has had his share for example - the alpha will tell him to cut it out; and if somebody challenges the alpha, there will be a warning, then a fight.

But activly making life miserable for the lower orders, which is what bullying really means, is seldom seen in good succesful groups. It’s not a good long-term strategy.

The other reason we see it often in humans, along with racism and similar, is that the easiest and quickest way to achieve group cohesion is to pick on the outsider (esp. if they are perceived as threat). That this works well doesn’t mean it’s a good strategy, however.

Maybe it is now. When I was growing up, though, most of the bullies would definitely pick on the mentally deficient in the neighborhood. Not just kids, but adults would do this too. I think that society has changed, a lot, and in this case it’s changed for the better. It’s no longer acceptable to bully someone who is mentally challenged in the US.

Mind you, the bullies generally weren’t mental giants themselves. If anything, they were a bit on the slow side themselves, it’s just that they found someone who had an IQ of about 10-15 points lower than themselves to make fun of. This was usually called “having a bit of fun with <whoever>” or “just teasing <whoever> a bit, no harm, no harm”. Anyone who complained, whether the person being bullied or an onlooker, was told that s/he had no sense of humor.

Males of most mammal species fight for access to females. Bullying is the way many teenage boys assert their fitness to mate. From what I remember as a teenager, bullies win status, and their victims are shunned.

Bullies pick on those who cannot fight back. Intellect has little to do with the ability to inflict physical pain (male bullies) or social demeaning retaliation (female bullies and some males). Bullies will pick on the nerds and the retreads alike, if the person cannot fight back effectively - or learns that their response will get them in trouble. (I.e. a challenged person who comes across as beating on a much smaller person, or unable to properly explain the circumstances or counter lies).

I read a book once “Nasty People” which said people are mean for a few simple reasons

  • they don’t feel good about themselves, and being nasty to you makes them feel better;
    -they want to enhance their social status at your expense;
  • they are manipulative and want you to do things for them.

Of course, for physical bullying, there is also the element of sadism that some people possess.

Many people learn early in life what gets results; from observation, from experience, etc. Some whine - “I’m not feeling good…” and this gets results “that’s ok dear, mommy will do the work for you…” Others lie “the dog ate my homework” and get the desired result. Some scream and yell - people will do what they want to shut them up. Still others find that picking on others gives the necessary results. Once this behaviour is learned and reinforced through early practice, it gets very difficult to cure this later in life.