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Why People Bully (Like Mitt Romney Did)

Accusations have come forward that Mitt Romney was a high-school bully, behavior consistent with his pranksterish past. But what makes some kids pick on others in the first place? 

What’s the Latest Development?

It seems Mitt Romney was something of a prankster in his youth, even going so far as to chase down one of his high-school classmates with a pair of scissors and cut off his newly-died blond locks. But that was the 1960s, before the term “bully” had entered our popular vocabulary. Still, even before the word “bully” emerged, there were people behaving like bullies. Catherine Bradshaw, a developmental psychologist who studies bullying at the Johns Hopkins University, believes there is a strong evolutionary drive behind bullying: “It’s a way of pulling your core group closer and putting someone else out of it,” she said. 

What’s the Big Idea?

The assumption was once that bullies lacked self-esteem and so felt the need to put themselves over on others to compensate. Now we know, however, that bullying is part of a peer socialization process. Bullies’ self-esteem and number of friends tend to be higher than average. As for the revelation that Romney might have been a jerk in high school, his decision making process has likely evolved in the last five decades. As Dorothy Espelage, a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said: “As you age, you understand the consequences of your behavior. I don’t think high-schoolers understand that they can be prosecuted.”

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