Is adolescent bullying an evolutionary adaptation?

Aggress Behav. 2012 May-Jun;38(3):222-38. doi: 10.1002/ab.21418. Epub 2012 Feb 13.


Bullying appears to be ubiquitous across cultures, involving hundreds of millions of adolescents worldwide, and has potentially serious negative consequences for its participants (particularly victims). We challenge the traditionally held belief that bullying results from maladaptive development by reviewing evidence that bullying may be, in part, an evolved, facultative, adaptive strategy that offers some benefits to its practitioners. In support of this view, we draw from research that suggests bullying serves to promote adolescent bullies' evolutionarily-relevant somatic, sexual, and dominance goals, has a genetic basis, and is widespread among nonhuman animals. We identify and explain differences in the bullying behavior of the two sexes, as well as when and why bullying is adaptive and when it may not be. We offer commentary on both the failures and successes of current anti-bullying interventions from an evolutionary perspective and suggest future directions for both research and anti-bullying interventions.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Bullying*
  • Female
  • Genetics, Behavioral
  • Group Processes
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reproduction
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Social Dominance