Studies have found that half or more of grade-school children experience bullying. A European study in 2009 found that children who bully at school are likely to also bully their siblings at home. That led a researcher involved in the study to speculate that bullying behavior often starts at home.
“It is not possible to tell from our study which behavior comes first, but it is likely that if children behave in a certain way at home, bullying a sibling for instance, if this behavior goes unchecked they may take this behavior into school,” said Ersilia Menesini of the Universita’ degli Studi di Firenze, Italy.
But bullying is not just child’s play. One study found that almost 30 percent of U.S. office workers experience bullyingby bosses or coworkers, from withholding of information critical to getting the job done to insulting rumors and other purposeful humiliation. And once it starts, it tends to get worse.
“Bullying, by definition, is escalatory. This is one of the reasons it’s so difficult to prevent it, because it usually starts in really small ways,” says Sarah Tracy, director of the Project for Wellness and Work-Life at Arizona State University.
Experts say to combat workplace bullies, respond rationally, specifically, and consistently.
Why do we do it? To gain status and power, psychologists say. And for some, it may be hard to resist the behavior. Researchers have seen bullying behavior in monkeys and speculate that the behavior may stretch way back in our evolutionary tree.