Yes, bullies enjoy hurting you, according to research reported in Medical News: “Brain Scans Show Bullies May Enjoy Watching Pain“.
The study, written up in Biological Psychology, looked at the brain scans of boys aged 16-18 who had been diagnosed with aggressive conduct disorder (“bullies”), along with a control set of boys who were not overly aggressive, while they were looking at aggressive images. When the bullies saw videos of someone intentionally inflicting pain on someone else, the pleasure centers of their brains lit up like little fireworks displays. This didn’t happen in the controls.
What does this have to do with the office and your career? Plenty.
Office bullies receive pleasure from inflicting hurt or damage on you. This pleasure may be the result of a variety of factors, combining biological and psychological issues. The root cause isn’t your problem: that they take pleasure in abusing you is.
It has been noted by others that sociopaths take delight in destroying people, not things, and take special joy in taking down good, kind, hard-working people. Their pleasure centers don’t light up at much but they do at this. Since aggressive conduct disorder has been associated with later full-blown sociopathy, this result may be relevant for them, too.
People who aren’t taught about how bullies (or “evil people”) work often think that the bully can be made to understand. So let me be clear:
Your office bully already understands that he’s hurting you: that’s why he’s doing it. There are people who take joy almost exclusively in damaging other people.
At work, you will run into people who bully. Many of these people will be doing it because they enjoy it. Since people with these types of disorders are apparently over-represented in management positions (at least in America), there seems to be a tacit understanding that bullying will be tolerated and is an accepted part of the “weeding out the unfit” process that occurs in most organisations. As if were all chimpanzees and not humans.
I have always believed that one of the reasons that Jaques findings are so controversial is that it removes the ability of bullies to operate freely. These people routinely take credit for other people’s work rather than doing their own. They lie about what they are doing, doing little but working long hours. Since they are accomplished liars and management is not holding their managers accountable for their work, they can always get out of the situations their lies create. In a Requisite Organization they have almost no place to hide.
Bullies exist. And by “bully” I mean “individuals that take great pleasure in hurting humans, especially ones that appear weak”. Keep that in mind the next time you head to the office.
Image Credit: “Black Dog being chased from the Admiral Benbow Inn by Captain Billy Bones” by N.C. Wyeth. From Treasure Island, 1911. Via Wikimedia Commons.