Anti-bullying campaigns might be tough to enforce in middle schools because nasty behavior, whether it’s picking fights or spreading ugly rumors, seems to boost kids’ popularity, new research shows.

A group of psychologists studied nearly 2,000 students at 11 middle schools in Los Angeles. They conducted surveys in the spring of 7th grade and the fall and spring of 8th grade, in which they asked the students to name their peers who were considered the “coolest,” as well as those who “start fights or push other kids around” and those who “spread nasty rumors about other kids.”

Often, the students who ranked coolest at one point were named among the most aggressive during the next survey, the researchers said. Conversely, the ones thought to be most aggressive went on to rank among the most popular.