Bullying is a common and familiar manifestation of power differentials and social hierarchy. Much has been written lately about bullying in schools, in the workplace, and even in the National Football League. Such hierarchies are pervasive in nature. They can be subtly, almost imperceptibly, managed (by glances, gestures, or implicit cultural expectations), brutally enforced (authoritarian rule, vicious attacks, or explicit edicts), or anything in between. These power differentials affect our daily behavior and thought processes, are a large source of our psychosocial stress, and influence our health and well-being.
As an evolutionary developmental psychologist focusing on aggression and peer relationships in childhood, I present for this article an evolutionary view to children’s social functioning as it relates to power differentials. First, 3 common errors in thinking about dominance are dispelled. The discussion next focuses on social dominance in childhood, including how humans appear to be prepared to think about and navigate these relationships, how aggression plays a starring role, and the unfortunate costs associated with competitive losses. (Bullying is a case in point.) The more positive side to power is then introduced; namely, the counterintuitive role of prosocial (other-oriented, friendly) behavior. Finally, in closing, some thoughts about remediation are offered.
Three Common Errors in Thinking About Dominance
Error #1: Because Hierarchies Are Natural (ie, Pervasive in Nature), They Must Be Good
In this context, “good” can have at least 2 distinct meanings: “morally correct” or “good for us” (as in bestowing well-being benefits). It is both fallacious and dangerous, however, to equate what is natural with what is good in either sense of the word. There are at least 2 classes of argument, 1 philosophical and 1 practical, which show why this assumption is incorrect.
The Naturalistic Fallacy
The philosophical angle involves the naturalistic fallacy (as compared with appeal to nature); it is fallacious to conclude that simply because something is found in nature, it must also be inherently good. The flipside is also …
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