WINDSOR, Ontario — Teens who often show manipulative behavior for personal gain tend to bully others and engage in sexual behavior at higher rates, a new study finds.
Researchers at the University of Windsor in Canada surveyed 540 adolescents, nearly 400 of whom were young teenagers with an average age of 14, initially asking them questions about their sexual activity and bullying tendencies.
A subsequent questionnaire looked at six aspects of each participant’s personality, which the researchers hoped would help provide them with insight on a given adolescent’s willingness to cooperate with or exploit others.
Evaluating a youth’s tendency to be agreeable and emotionally receptive on the widely-accepted “Honesty-Humility” scale, the researchers found that those who scored lower tended to display antisocial personality traits, making them more likely to engage in needlessly aggressive and demeaning behavior.
Chronic bulliers also tended to use various related tactics, including intimidating fellow peers, to increase their chances at landing a sexual suitor, the surveys revealed.
“Younger adolescents lower in ‘Honesty-Humility’ may therefore strategically manipulate others in a variety of ways to obtain more sexual partners,” explains Daniel Provenzano, the study’s lead author, in a media release. “Our findings indirectly suggest that exploitative adolescents may have more sexual partners if they are able to strategically use exploitative behaviour like bullying to target weaker individuals.”
From an evolutionary perspective, men who displayed dominance tended to be more successful in signaling to potential mates that they were strong, capable, and sexually virile, the researchers note.
Today, young bullies often hope to cast their rivals in a bad light, whether to stroke their own ego, or address what they see to be threats or insecurities.
If nothing else, this research can help child psychologists identify the factors that may lead any given adolescent to bully, the researchers argue.
“Our results suggest that both research and intervention efforts with older and younger adolescents need to recognize and respond to the relationships between personality, sex and bullying,” says Provenzano.
Provenzano et al. published their findings this month in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.
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