Severe Bullying Alters Adolescents’ Brain Structures, Reveals A New Study
Adolescence is not only a time of new experiences and stresses, but also a period of extensive brain development — which can be impaired by severe bullying, said Erin Burke Quinlan, lead researcher of a study finding the effects of bullying on the brain include changes to the organ’s physical structure that might increasing teens’ risk of mental health problems.
Researchers from King’s College London, UK, analysed data, questionnaires and brain scans of 682 participants from England, Ireland, France and Germany. To study the effects of bullying on their brains, high-resolution brain scans of participants were taken when they were 14 and 19 years old. At 14 and 19, these participants also had to complete questionnaires about whether they had been bullied, and to what extent. Also at 19, researchers made a note of their brain volume as well as levels of depression, anxiety and hyperactivity.
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It was found that 36 of the 682 young people had experienced chronic bullying during the five years. And while the study’s findings validated previous research that has found peer victimization affects teens psychologically, a novel finding was that bullying had an impact on two parts of the brain — the caudate and putamen — causing them to decrease in volume. The putamen is responsible for influencing many types of motor behaviors, such as planning, learning and execution, while the caudate helps with sleep, memory, language, learning and emotions.
It was due to these changes that researchers were able to partly explain the relationship between severe bullying and higher levels of anxiety at age 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,” said Quinlan. Therefore, she recommends that every effort should be made to limit bullying before it has developmental effects that puts kids at risk for mental health issues.