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Scientific Evidence of Brain Damage Caused by Bullying

Illustration of man and brain, used in article about brain damage and bullying.
Image by brain blogger licensed under Creative Commons

Wow! The evidence that bullying has a significant long-term effect on people’s lives just gets more and more compelling.

In this article by the Boston Globe, researches reveal findings that bullying has long term consequences on brain development.

From the article:

But when it comes to the actual harm bullying does, the picture grows murkier. The psychological torment that victims feel is real. But perhaps because many of us have experienced this sort of schoolyard cruelty and lived to tell the tale, peer harassment is still commonly written off as a “soft” form of abuse — one that leaves no obvious injuries and that most victims simply get over. It’s easy to imagine that, painful as bullying can be, all it hurts is our feelings.

A new wave of research into bullying’s effects, however, is now suggesting something more than that — that in fact, bullying can leave an indelible imprint on a teen’s brain at a time when it is still growing and developing. Being ostracized by one’s peers, it seems, can throw adolescent hormones even further out of whack, lead to reduced connectivity in the brain, and even sabotage the growth of new neurons.

One thing we hear, especially when we talk to adult bullies or the parents of bullies, is that they feel this behavior is a “right of passage”. That “everyone grows up and gets over it”.

It’s true that everyone grows up, but here we have evidence that bullying affects its victims development and that they carry this trauma with them for the rest of their lives!

These neurological scars, it turns out, closely resemble those borne by children who are physically and sexually abused in early childhood.

Read that again… The effect that bullying has on the brain of its victims is similar to that of children who suffer sexual assault. Still believe that the kids need to just “get over it”?

The article goes on to state that bully victims have abnormal levels of cortisol development. In boys it’s higher, which results in damage to the hippocampus area of the brain. In girls it’s lower, which weakens their immune system.

The fact is that there is now biological evidence that bullying is harmful to its victims. It’s not just about “feelings” anymore. These kids are suffering from more than just a bloody nose.

Please read the whole article when you get a chance. I can’t do it justice in a little synopsis here on the blog. The implications are simply mind blowing.

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