According to a study to be published in the Journal of Genetic Psychology, kids are more likely to be judgmental toward peers who have traits they consider undesirable if they believe these children are at fault for having them.
The researchers asked 137 students from third to eighth grade to evaluate six hypothetical males from another school. Each male had a characteristic thought to be bad. There was a poor student, an obese male, a bad athlete, an overaggresive student, a very shy male, and a student who suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The students were told that the males came in for two interviews six months apart. In the first one, they supposedly talked about their undesirable trait and if they wanted to change it. When they came back, they discussed whether or not they did attempt to do so and if they got any positive results.
The researchers found out that the more the kids considered the males to be responsible for their undesirable trait, the more likely they were to tease them and refuse to give them assistance. Girls were less likely to tease their peers compared to boys, but both genders found overaggressive and obese males equally disdainful. This was because the students felt that they were the most at fault for their conditions, especially because they didn't have the motivation to change themselves.
Mark Barnett, professor of psychology and co-author of the study, says, "The more they attribute fault to peers for being a poor student, a poor athlete or whatever, the more they dislike them and the more they anticipate responding to them in a negative manner."
How can kids avoid being bullied? Barnett says their results show that kids viewed peers who tried to do something about their undesirable trait in a good light. "If the students think that the child has tried to change, that tends to positively influence how they anticipate interacting with that peer," he is quoted as saying. "They really liked kids who are successful in overcoming their problem, but they also really liked kids who tried and put effort into changing."
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