Do Bullies Want Love, Not War?

New research suggests that bullying may be a tactic for securing more dates

Posted Nov 16, 2015

Lee Morley/Flickr
Source: Lee Morley/Flickr

Bullying among adolescents may be tactic for securing more dates, research suggests.

Psychologists in Canada have found that bullies experience greater opportunities for sex. Bullies are more likely to have dated, had sex, and to report numerous sexual partners.

The researchers surveyed ~500 teenagers about their experience of bullying, both as a victim and a perpetrator. Volunteers responded to questions such as “How often have you been hit, kicked, or punched by someone who was much stronger or more popular than you?” and “How often have you made sexual jokes, comments, or gestures aimed at someone much weaker or less popular last term?”

The adolescents also reported on their sexual experience and their self-perceived attractiveness.

Bullies luckier in love

The results of the survey showed that bullying behavior was positively correlated with having dated and had sex, with bullies around 1.5–2x as likely to have some sexual experience. Bullies also reported more dating and sex partners.

Among younger volunteers, bullies were more interested in dating. Older, university-age bullies thought themselves more attractive than non-bullies.

In further analyses, the researchers statistically controlled for the possible effects of age, sex, and attractiveness on dating and sexual behavior. They found that, among the younger participants in their study, those who were male, attractive, and younger were more likely to report having dated. However, among the older participants, bullying was the only predictor of dating success.

Victims of bullying were somewhat more likely to be bullies themselves, and to report dating at an earlier age.

The authors of the study, which was led by Anthony Volk of Brock University, say that bullying could be motivated by a drive for status and sex, which previous studies have suggested are linked. They say:

“Given that adolescence is a period in which dating and sexual behavior emerge, bullying and victimization peak in frequency, and social status has a heightened importance, adolescence may be a critical developmental context for studying and understanding bullying and victimization.”

The researchers acknowledge that their results may be explained by biased self-reports, as it is plausible that bullies and victims vary in how truthfully they responded to the survey.

Bullying down in the U.K.

Meanwhile, to coincide with #AntiBullyingWeek in the U.K., the Department for Education has released figures indicating that bullying and violent behavior in schools dropped between 2005 and 2014. Of the more than 10,000 14-year-old pupils surveyed in 2014, 36% reported being the victim of some form of bullying in the last year. In 2005, the total was 41%.

Twice as many girls as boys reported having experienced cyberbullying, but boys were doubly likely to report that their bullies were physically violent.


Volk, A. A., Dane, A. V., Marini, Z. A., & Vaillancourt, T. (in press). Adolescent bullying, dating, and mating: Testing an evolutionary hypothesis. Evolutionary Psychology.

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