side effects

Science: Getting Bullied Screws With Your Brain


Sure, being bullied in school is a miserable experience that may lead to you threatening to shoot your attacker, violently fighting back or, ugh, taking your own life. And while we’ve already heard bullying can help lead to health issues like the loss of bone density and cardiovascular problems, now The Science tells us anti-gay bulling will mess with your head.

An adolescent brain is a busy place: It’s packed with far more neurons than will remain once the brain’s neural wiring takes the shape it will retain into adulthood. In this way, the brain of a teenager is over-prepared for an array of possibilities. A teen can take up different skills and hobbies and become proficient at them much more easily than older individuals. In a manner of speaking, the experiences of a child or a teen shape the way that the brain will crystallize.

But while positive experiences may nurture a youth, traumatic ones will damage him deeply, and probably permanently. The research is clear: Abuse a child, and the process of his brain formation is disturbed. “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,” the Globe article said. When [Boston-based neurological researcher Dr. Martin Teicher] subjected teens who had been bullied to brain scans, he was able to see the physical differences in their living brain tissue as compared to the neurological structures of teens who had not been mistreated by their peers.

The bullied teens, the Boston Globe reported, “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.” Specifically, the article said, “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.”

Which means bullying victims don’t just have a harder time navigating the social minefield that is middle and high school, but their ability to learn is also directly impacted. I had a hard enough time solving proofs in geometry as a bully-free high schooler. For my not-so-lucky peers, it was even tougher. (NB: And now we learn Berlin’s polar bear Knut died of brain problems. Ugh.)