New Study Shows Long-Term Effects of Bullying Tied to Empathy


A new study just released by the Kellogg School of Management, shows that victims of bullying often do not get the support, intervention or advocacy they need due directly to the fact that people fail to understand the long-term consequences of social trauma. The article refers to this issue as an “empathy gap”, showing that many people still believe that the severity of long-term emotional injury that bullying causes is underestimated.

““Everyone knows that social trauma is unpleasant, but people are often blind to the full severity of these experiences and therefore don’t do enough to protect or intervene when victims suffer,” said study leader Loran Nordgren, assistant professor of management and organizations. “News stories in recent months centered around bully victims who took their own lives out of desperation and fear, whether harassed physically in school, or emotionally via text message, online or through social networks. Only by having a heightened sense of empathy to victims’ true suffering can we begin to pave the way for reform and new policies.”

The study, which is titled “Empathy Gaps for Social Pain: Why People Underestimate the Pain of Social Suffering” was conducted by researchers from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. The “empathy gap” theory is explained as that the researchers found that people have difficulty understanding the severity that a victim suffers unless they themselves experience it. This is often true for victims I talk to as well who have so many people ask them why they just don’t get over what happened to them and move on. The article goes on to explain how the experiment was conducted.

“The researchers conducted five experiments that simulated a socially painful event. In four of the experiments, participants were asked to play a computer ball-toss game. By using a social exclusion manipulation, the study concluded that those participants who were included in the activity consistently underestimated the severity of social pain compared to excluded participants, who had a heightened appreciation of its effects.

A fifth experiment asked middle-school teachers to evaluate policies regarding emotional bullying at school. Those teachers who personally experienced social exclusion had a heightened perception of the pain caused by emotional bullying, which led them to implement punishment for students who bully and more comprehensive treatment for bullied students.

“Statistics show that 25 percent of public schools have reported that bullying occurs among students on a daily or weekly basis1, and 43 percent of students have experienced some form of cyber-bullying2. While educators and policy makers have developed programs and laws to prevent incidents of bullying, our research suggests this may not be enough,” argues Nordgren. “Only when students, teachers and school administrators partake in exercises or training that simulate a socially painful event, like bullying, can they be truly empathetic to its consequences.”

According to Nordgren, future research aimed at improving public policy should consider ways of closing the empathy gap as a means to correct distorted judgments of social pain, such as improved counseling for bullied students or simulating self-induced mild states of social pain to heighten understanding of others’ pain.”3

I couldn’t agree more that not only do we have to concentrate on the prevention of bullying, but a large emphasis must continue to be focused on the recovery from bullying for both the victim and the bully.  It is good to see studies like this being conducted that will ultimately help us to understand how to better treat the victims so the long-term damage can be mitigated. To read the full article about this study that the above quotes were pulled from, click here.


1 Simone Rovers, Jijun Zhang, Jennifer Truman, and Thomas D. Snyder, “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2010,” National Center for Education Statistics, (2010): iv, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/iscs10.pdf

2 Chris Mossener, “Cyber Bullying,” National Crime Prevention Council, (2007): 2, http://www.ncpc.org/resources/files/pdf/bullying/Cyberbullying%20Trends%20-%20Tudes.pdf

3 Quotes above are referenced from the article “Understanding the “empathy gap”” (2011),
http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/News_Articles/2011/loran-nordgren.aspx

10 thoughts on “New Study Shows Long-Term Effects of Bullying Tied to Empathy

  1. my son is the victim of bullying in a small town, we have gotten to the point we are not longer talking to the school we instead are fighting back for him, it’s been going on since Sept, and the emotional toll it’s taking on him is beyond any people’s beliefs we are done trying to be nice to the school, as the school and city don’t want to deal with things they would rather brush it under the rug, as they claim it will pass, it’s been 5 months now it’s not passing it’s getting worse it’s a daily situation not a once in while, my advice to parents STAND UP FOR YOUR KIDS IF YOU DON’T NO ONE WILL.

  2. It is vexing that so many students, teachers, parents, administrators, and schools are oblivious to the depth of the consequences of bullying and what they should be doing to help. Kids like Brenda’s deserve far better.

    Another point: bullying and the sensitivity behind empathy intensify one another. Abuse makes a victim perceptive to similar struggles in the lives of others, and sensitive victims are favorite targets. I and many others bore the brunt of both causal relationships simultaneously.

  3. Thank you for writing this and continuing to focus on issues related to bullying. I linked my post today to this one as it is about how teachers contribute to bullying. Lack of adequate empathy and understanding about bullying caused my daughter to leave a prestigious private school she had attended for ten years.

  4. The long-term effects of bullying can be devastating to a persons life. I believe it can trigger many problems such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, health and weight issues etc. People who have experienced any type of bullying trauma can develop these types of problems. There should be more awareness about the long-term effects which bullying can cause.

  5. Hey, love these posts! I was bullied last year at my Catholic school by these preppy girls, the girls ignored me and the guys loved to tease me. Thank God, I go to a different school but I coulnd’t be more happier!And ironically it is a public school five minutes from where I live too. I have a few friends at my public school but the bullying still haunts me time after time.

  6. I like this openness about the issue. It really needs to be a focus in many schools.

    I suffered from bullying and social exclusion as a kid and can say that it has affected me my entire life, even as an adult to this day. The effects can be permanent, even with lots of therapy. I unfortunately learnt to adapt to the way I was treated by others that I came to not depend on other people in any way. I would just put on a brave face when something happened as if I wasn’t surprised, so my self esteem has always been low.

    I didn’t become properly adjusted socially and I still feel isolated to the world, with difficulty establishing relationships with other people. I tend to come across as awkward most of the time, shaky in social situations and very anxious, avoiding social functions, etc. What most children experience in life I missed out on and it’s not an easy thing to recover from. I also struggle with the very basic things in life that come to most people naturally.

    Bullying and social exclusion is not a trivial matter at all. It really affects lives through to adulthood. It lays a horrible foundation for a person’s life. I wish schools did more. Even if they had a specific child therapist to look out for certain behaviors and bring an end to it, would help a lot. I know regular teachers in my school could see what was happening, but they did nothing.

    I had to repeat my college twice due to lack of attendance. I then left university early because I felt lonely and didn’t connect with anyone. I didn’t make a single friend.

  7. It is the best time to make some plans for the long run and it is time to be happy.
    I’ve learn this submit and if I may just I desire to counsel you some interesting issues or suggestions. Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. I want to read more things approximately it!

  8. Pingback: Empathy Gap | teamthirdspace

  9. Pingback: Teachers Please Inspire and Support Our Children « Delightfully Different Life

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