Bullied Brain Damage


The Boston Globe wrote an excellent article on the research being done to show that the human brain can be damaged during one’s youth if they have to deal with being bullied. This research shows that there is a physical effect to being bullied, closely resembling findings shown in research of children who were physically and sexually abused in early childhood.

The article titled, Inside the Bullied Brain goes on to explain this in more detail:

“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.

These neurological scars, it turns out, closely resemble those borne by children who are physically and sexually abused in early childhood. Neuroscientists now know that the human brain continues to grow and change long after the first few years of life. By revealing the internal physiological damage that bullying can do, researchers are recasting it not as merely an unfortunate rite of passage but as a serious form of childhood trauma.

This change in perspective could have all sorts of ripple effects for parents, kids, and schools; it offers a new way to think about the pain suffered by ostracized kids, and could spur new antibullying policies. It offers the prospect that peer harassment, much like abuse and other traumatic experiences, may increasingly be seen as a medical problem — one that can be measured with brain scans, and which may yield to new kinds of clinical treatment.”

The research goes on to show that the brain’s normal development can be altered by being bullied and that this damage can last into adulthood. The researchers studied more than 1,000 young adults. The study, conducted by Martin Teicher led to some interesting results as the article points out:

“What the scientists found was that kids who had been bullied reported more symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders than the kids who hadn’t. In fact, emotional abuse from peers turned out to be as damaging to mental health as emotional abuse from parents. “It’s a substantial early stressor,” Teicher said. The data were published in July in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Things got even more interesting when Teicher decided to scan the brains of 63 of his young adult subjects. Those who reported having been mistreated by their peers had observable abnormalities in a part of the brain known as the corpus callosum — a thick bundle of fibers that connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and which is vital in visual processing, memory, and more. The neurons in their corpus callosums had less myelin, a coating that speeds communication between the cells — vital in an organ like the brain where milliseconds matter.

It’s not yet entirely clear what these changes in the corpus callosum may lead to, or whether they’re connected to the higher rates of depression that Teicher found in bullied kids.”

There are many other studies going on as well that are looking at the same issues with findings showing that there are physical changes, not just mental changes due to being bullied. The one lingering question for the researchers is whether the physical effect is due to the bullying or if people with these certain physical differences are simply attracting the bullies due to it. The research is still in the early phases, but leads to interesting questions about how we think about handling bullying issues and if it does lead to physical damage, would more policies and laws be put into place faster to protect victims? These questions will need to be addressed as more research is done and the results point to more physical issues.

Information for this article was originally presented in The Boston Globe article titled “Inside the Bullied Brain“, by Emily Anthes on November 28, 2010.

4 thoughts on “Bullied Brain Damage

  1. Pingback: Bullied Brain Damage | Bullying Help

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