Bullying is a problem that’s been around for eons. But just because it’s not a new problem doesn’t mean it’s not harmful.
In fact, now that we have new imaging techniques available to us, it’s easy to tell just how harmful bullying really is.
Researchers believe that being the victim of bullying can negatively alter brain structure and harm a person’s future development and mental health.
How Bullying Alters Brain Structure
Researchers at King’s College London in the United Kingdom conducted research on what bullying does to a person’s brain. To get results they analyzed the brain scans of 600 individuals and complementary questionnaires to see how the brains of children who claimed to be bullied differed from the brains of children who weren’t.
“The participants were part of the IMAGEN long-term project. The goal of the study was to assess the brain development and mental health of young adults through questionnaires and high-resolution brain scans, taken when the participants were 14 and 19 years old.
The scientists found that more than 30 of the participants had experienced chronic bullying. Then, they compared the data with those of young people who had not been victims of chronic bullying.
The study confirms the results of previous research that linked bullying with mental health issues — but it also revealed something new.
Bullying may decrease the volume of parts of the brain called the caudate and putamen.
The caudate plays a crucial role in how the brain learns — specifically how it process memories. This part of the brain uses information from past experiences to influence future actions and decisions. The putamen regulates movements and affects learning.
The authors say that the physical changes in the brains of adolescents who were constantly bullied partly explain the relationship between peer victimization and high anxiety levels at the age of 19.
‘Although not classically considered relevant to anxiety, the importance of structural changes in the putamen and caudate to the development of anxiety most likely lies in their contribution to related behaviors such as reward sensitivity, motivation, conditioning, attention, and emotional processing.’
With as many as 1 in 3 children the victim of bullying the study illustrates why it’s so important to evaluate whether or not a child is being bullied.
A high frequency of bullying would likely equal a stunted development and could equal future health problems that aren’t easily remedied by medication or other forms of therapy.