Bullies squelched when bystanders intervene: study

Aug 13, 2012
In humans' evolutionary past, helping the victim of a bully hastened our species' movement toward a more egalitarian society, a researcher finds. Credit: NIMBioS

With new national anti-bullying ads urging parents to teach their kids to speak up if they witness bullying, one researcher has found that in humans' evolutionary past at least, helping the victim of a bully hastened our species' movement toward a more egalitarian society.

Humans have evolved a genetically-controlled drive to help weaker individuals fight back against a . The drive to help the weaker group members led to a dramatic reduction in group inequality and eventually enabled humans to develop widespread cooperation, empathy, compassion and egalitarian , according to the paper which appears today in the .

The findings appear to support prior research showing that more egalitarian societies, such as in , appear to keep bullying in check. In one of the earliest cross-national studies on bullying in schools by professor Dan Olweus, who pioneered anti-bullying programs worldwide beginning in the early 1980s, the behavior was found to occur at lower rates in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. These findings are supported by additional, more recent studies by the National Institutes of Health and the .

Using a , the paper's author Sergey Gavrilets showed that differences in fighting abilities cause to emerge where stronger individuals take away resources from weaker individuals. However, when individuals realize greater benefits can occur if they prevent the transfer of resources from weaker individuals, a particular, genetically controlled psychology evolves that causes individuals to intervene on behalf of the victim. While intervening carries some risk, the helping pays off in the long term, ensuring that everyone's resources remain equal, Gavrilets finds.

"Based on the results, helping the victim then is the evolutionary 'right' thing to do, not only from a victim's point of view or a societal point of view but also the helper's point of view. As such, I'd speculate that this is also a psychologically rewarding thing to do in spite of the risks potentially involved," said Gavrilets, who is the Associate Director for Scientific Activities at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis and a professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

With almost one in five U.S. students reporting having been bullied sometimes or more often and a recent spate of teen suicides linked to bullying, the Obama administration has vowed to make anti-bullying a national priority and has endorsed the national ad campaign.

Explore further: Christmas cracker pulling: How to send everyone home a winner

More information: Gavrilets S. (2012). On the evolutionary origins of the egalitarian syndrome. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Online].

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User comments : 18

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Shootist
1 / 5 (1) Aug 13, 2012
I'm ambivalent about government attempts to stop bullying. Mainly because I'm ambivalent about government in general, but also because getting and being bullied has been part of growing up for 500000 years.

A child who learns to stand up to a bully is better off than she would be otherwise. It builds character.

A child who is a bully will eventually get his ass kicked. Which also builds character.

But, as I said, I'm ambivalent.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (1) Aug 13, 2012
Abortions and contraception are the key, not nanny/police state spy networks. Of course being nothing more than a system of judgments, religious authorities ultimately want to monitor your every waking moment. That dovetails nicely with the interests of imperial/corporatist governments.
n0ns3ns0r
1 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2012
I've never seen a bully operate solo. It's a group effort. People don't speak up because they are either part of the group or because they'll get labeled a rat. And when you get bullied by a group and speak up, teachers and administrators always will side with the group. It's their word against yours.
david_farschman
2 / 5 (4) Aug 14, 2012
It would seem that abortion itself is a rather excellent example of bullying, of the more powerful taking from the weaker.
kochevnik
4 / 5 (4) Aug 14, 2012
It would seem that abortion itself is a rather excellent example of bullying, of the more powerful taking from the weaker.
It would seem you're a rape-publican. Gushing pity for cell clusters in the womb, which men rightfully own, but neglecting anyone who emerged from one.
Pkunk_
not rated yet Aug 14, 2012
Abortions and contraception are the key, not nanny/police state spy networks. Of course being nothing more than a system of judgments, religious authorities ultimately want to monitor your every waking moment. That dovetails nicely with the interests of imperial/corporatist governments.

Rather , armies of miserable unemployed people are what communist revolutions are based on. Nothing fills a commie with more glee than finding millions of poor,exploited people. They should encourage people to have more babies instead since it suits their needs.

The perfect recipe for whipping up passions by blaming the "corporations" and "imperialists" , while ignoring the fact that most people would do way better if they just got up their asses and worked.
kochevnik
not rated yet Aug 14, 2012
Rather , armies of miserable unemployed people are what communist revolutions are based on.
The perfect recipe for whipping up passions by blaming the "corporations" and "imperialists"
Hardly. Both communism and corporatism movements are extreme right-wing.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2012
if they prevent the transfer of resources from weaker individuals, a particular, genetically controlled psychology evolves that causes individuals to intervene on behalf of the victim.

While I agree that the psychology changes to cause individuals to intervene I'm not sold on the 'genetically' part. How is that claim substantiated?

They should encourage people to have more babies instead since it suits their needs.

It also suits the capitalist's needs. More babies means more wage slaves (i.e. more people that can create value of which the majority is syphoned off to the controlling class).
Capitalists and communists (and most other groups like religious nutjobs) like the same methods: More babies - just for different reasons
Moebius
4 / 5 (4) Aug 14, 2012
And conversely bullies are emboldened by non-intervention of bystanders, they think they are showing off and giving the crowd what it wants.

How this relates to abortion just goes to show how stupid pro-lifers are, it doesn't relate at all. Show me a fetus complaining. Pro-lifers are the best argument FOR abortion, they should all have been. They won't be happy until we are like that Star Trek episode with wall to wall people. We should give them the rapture they want.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2012
And conversely bullies are emboldened by non-intervention of bystanders, they think they are showing off and giving the crowd what it wants.

I'm not sure about this. That seems like attitude of someone who cares what other people think. Bullying is characterized by not caring for other people.
Deathclock
1 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2012
No child is born mean, and no child controls their experiences during their childhood. They are a victim of the circumstances of their birth, and their experiences from that point forward, which are beyond their control, determine who they turn out to be. Bullies likely have been abused themselves, but by someone/people who they should be able to trust. When you are abused by a parent or family member the psychological effect is significantly different than when you are abused by a stranger... a stranger you don't care about, you are free to hate them, but with a parent it's not that easy.

As always, we should address problems at the cause, not at the symptom.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2012
As always, we should address problems at the cause, not at the symptom.

While the problem persists we should address both.

I don't think "they were abused when they were younger so we'll just let them keep on bullying people - it's not their fault" is a viable strategy (not to say rather unfair towards the people who get bullied. It's not THEIR fault, either. So they do merit some protection. And if that protection means punishment to bullies then so be it.)
Deathclock
1 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2012
I don't think "they were abused when they were younger so we'll just let them keep on bullying people - it's not their fault" is a viable strategy


I didn't say this... I said to address the cause of the problem...

And if that protection means punishment to bullies then so be it.


...and this has been proven 1000x over to not be effective, it reinforces their bad attitude and their notion that the world is unfair to them so why should they care about others?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2012
I said to address the cause of the problem

And I said: address both. There definitely needs to be more effort to stop the causes but that is hard, since it means exerting (government) control inside the family unit. There will have to be better ways (e.g. shaping societiywide awareness and attitutde towrads responsibility for our fellow man). But I'm Almost certain that the problem will never go away fully.

Bullies will remain bullies if not stopped (people tend to stick to behavioral patterns that work for them). Psychothrapy may work. But if nothing works and they cannot live inside society then they must live outside of it (which either means prison or exile)
Deathclock
1 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2012
Right, and I agree with that, and that is what we do with criminals currently and it is regrettable that we cannot effectively rehabilitate people yet...

The real problem is for the same reason that you can't blame the bully you also can't blame the parents, because they are also a product of their circumstances... there is a reason why poverty is correlated with crime, not because criminals are poor but because poverty produces people willing to be criminals.

It seems like these problems that we all try to think of novel ways to solve are simply the natural order of things... the real solutions might only be widespread (and organic, not forced) changes to society that we just have to sit back and wait for...
Pkunk_
5 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2012
They should encourage people to have more babies instead since it suits their needs.

It also suits the capitalist's needs. More babies means more wage slaves (i.e. more people that can create value of which the majority is syphoned off to the controlling class).
Capitalists and communists (and most other groups like religious nutjobs) like the same methods: More babies - just for different reasons

I fail to still see how not having babies will stop bullies from being born. Like the article suggests bullies are created more due to social circumstances.
Also the idea that there is a multi-generational conspiracy of capitalists who are encouraging baby production is just ludicrous. Most "capitalists" do a horrible job of holding on to thier wealth even during thier lifetime leave alone the way thier spoilt brat kids squander their wealth.

I'm sorry but your theory abt "wage slaves" is a failure except in a undemocratic country like China.
kochevnik
5 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2012
A factor, though hardly casual, is a low degree of self respect. After all, one who does not respect himself cannot respect others. Norwegian rehabilitation has the world's lowest recidivism rate.
Moebius
not rated yet Aug 18, 2012
And conversely bullies are emboldened by non-intervention of bystanders, they think they are showing off and giving the crowd what it wants.

I'm not sure about this. That seems like attitude of someone who cares what other people think. Bullying is characterized by not caring for other people.


I had a high school tormentor twice my size. He only harassed me when other people were around.

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