As adults, we know that high-school bullies are just jerks whose rudeness won’t take them too far in the real world, and who just end up becoming “that guy” at the gym. (So our parents inform us.)
But just as Biff and his asshat buddies would have you believe, high-school bullies may have more sex in their teenage years specifically because of their disagreeable personalities, according to a study published in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.
Researchers surveyed 144 older adolescents (average age: 18.32) and 396 younger adolescents (average age: 14.64) to look for a connection between personality traits, bullying, and sexual liaisons. The researchers asked the kids about their sex lives, their number of sex partners, and their bullying habits—and found that bullies’ tendencies to exploit and manipulate their peers also translated to more sexual partners.
Well, that’s not exactly the news we wanted to hear today, science. It also begs the question: Why?
The scientists figure that because bullies are skilled at going out of their way to make their peers look and feel bad, they can also use the same tactics to look better in the eyes of potential partners, while making their competition seem less desireable. That makes bullies “attractive sexual partners to opposite-sex peers, while simultaneously suppressing the sexual success of same-sex rivals,” according the study.
But while bullying can be used as a tool to gain the attention of potential partners, it doesn’t work for all rude, manipulative teenagers, according to the study. While it does seem to help bullies compete with peers of the same sex and help them look more attractive to the opposite sex, individual personality differences might come into play and determine whether they’re willing and able to use the strategy in the context of attracting the opposite sex, the study says. Participants who scored lower as far as honesty and humility goes were more likely to use the tactics.
“Younger adolescents lower in ‘honesty-humility’ may therefore strategically manipulate others in a variety of ways to obtain more sexual partners,” lead study author Daniel Provenzano told Science Daily. “Our findings indirectly suggest that exploitative adolescents may have more sexual partners if they are able to strategically use exploitative behavior like bullying to target weaker individuals.”
So, yeah: Maybe bullying works in high school. But coming off like an asshole almost definitely doesn’t work on a dating profile. And if you’re worried that your honesty-humility scale is a little on the high side, then fear not, Mr. Nice Guy: You can always hit the gym, because women think strong guys are hotter.