This research examined the effects of bullying on the brain and its impact on behavioral changes. The data were collected from adults and processed in order to define an approximate percentage of people being bullied and people being bullies themselves. It also provides evidence that the ones from the first category are more likely to become those from the second category. It is evident from the existing research of Martin Teicher, M.D., Ph.D., the director of the Developmental Biopsychiatry Research Program at McLean Hospital, that verbal bullying can be harmful for a person not less than any other kind of bullying and can lead to damage in the corpus callosum increased by this risk of psychological problems (2010). In the current research, therefore, we worked out the correlation of four kinds of bullying and investigated that verbal abuse is more frequent. Apart from this, conducted experiment showed that bullying could cause different negative states and feelings, among which anxiousness and anger are dominant. The findings largely supported the hypothesis that suggests bullying affecting its victims and making them prone to become bullies. Moreover, the significant part of such negative impact originates from verbal abuse.
Bullying is considered as a kind of schoolyard cruelty. It also appears to be a quite common trait even for different societies. It is a seriously harmful event in the life of a child who had experienced the violence of bullying even once. Moreover, the spreading of this type of abuse is so wide that it can even make national headlines. For instance, one of the Columbine High School murderers, Eric H.D. Klebold, who had been suffering from bullying for years, or Phoebe Prince, the Massachusetts teenager, who took his life after months of abuse by older students. In the USA, these events were the last drops that led to intensifying the studying of bullying reasons and the impacts that bullying has. What is known exactly is the fact that according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), every fourth student is being bullied at school (NCES, 2015). Perhaps, this is the answer to why this sort of harassment is still commonly considered as a “soft” form of abuse – if so many people went through this kind of cruelty, there is nothing extraordinary about it. Nevertheless, the fact that it does not leave obvious body harm is not a reason to obey treating of this problem. What makes the issue necessary for studying is that recently the harm of bullying was considered as only emotional issue. However, prior studies provided evidence that made the fact of bullying damaging only the emotional level questionable. Another side of the coin is that kids suffering from bullying are more likely to have a long-term damage to their brains and changes in their behavior. Although the impacts of bullying on the brain have been in the focus of scientists’ attention for a couple of decades, there is relatively few published materials that can help with the understanding of this issue.
Among the scientists, there exist several theories about the effects of bullying on the brain. The first theory was created by the psychologist Tracy Vaillancourt from University in Ottawa. She stated that bullying could change the amount of stress hormones resulting in abnormal cortisol level that, in turn, weakens the immune system and kills the cells in hippocampus (region of the brain responsible for memory). She concludes that such a chain makes bullied teenagers’ memory poorer. Thus, the academic stated that this process is irreversible if comparing to non-bullied students. (Society for Neuroscience, 2015). Another scientist Daniel A. Peterson suggests similar idea, where the only difference was the admission that survival of the brain cells can return to a normal rate on condition that bullying is a single and isolated incident (Lunz, 2015).
Another idea possessing a big interest for the scientists was expressed by Yavon Delville, a professor from the University of Texas, Austin. His point is based on the examination of the socially stressed hamsters. The experiment conducted by him meant to put a young hamster (B) in a cage that belonged to the older and larger hamster (A). The latter began to push the small one around to the point of physical contact or made a couple of bites and after that, the small one was removed. In order to have more exact data, the experiment with the same hamster was repeated several times. After that, the observed hamster was put in the cage to even younger one (C). What the scientists noticed was that the hamster (B) started to behave more aggressive towards the younger one (C). What impressed next was the fearful and subordinate behavior of hamster (C) after being put in the cage to the hamster of the same size or larger. In the words of Yavon Delville, the experiment demonstrated the increase of neurotransmitters and vasopressin and the decrease of serotonin. Therefore, the first hamster was responsible for the aggression increase while the purpose of the second one was known to reduce the aggression level. The leading role in the behavioral change was explained by the repeating stress experienced by the animal. The results of the research suggest that there is a high probability that victims can become bullies themselves because of social stress (Society for Neuroscience, 2015). In other words, where one can find violence against children, one will surely find children becoming violent.
The ideas of Yavon Delvile provided the basis for the current experiment conducted below. The focus was made not on the number of people who experienced bullying but on the kind of bullying they suffered most and on the number of people who became bullies as a result of being abused.
Bullying affects its victims in such a way that they also become prone to be bullies. The main impact here derives from verbal bullying.
This research is aimed at shedding more light on the relation between bullies and students being bullied. Consequently, the experience of the first-hand participants was used as a basis. To reach the goal, approximately 200 people were asked via the internet to participate in the survey. The respondents were chosen from the members of the groups Psychology Today and Association for Psychological Science in Facebook. Only 115 agreed to participate from all the people who received test; others either did not answer at all or replied either that they did not have time or even resort to rude denial. In order to get more credible data, respondents were chosen among younger adults (age range: 20-25) as students could exaggerate or understate needed information being afraid of punishment or because of shame. That is why younger adults who still remember what it is like to be a student are more open to cooperate concerning this matter and considered as better respondents.
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In the current research, questionnaires with multiple-choice questions were presented for participants to respond. This method of gathering information was the best variant because of several reasons. First, it does not presuppose any expenses, laboratory, or special equipment (besides calculator and special tables for writing and calculating results). Second, creating the exact questions helped to gain exact information that was needed. Third, it was a comparatively easy way of collecting initial data.
Five multiple-choice questions were prepared in the MS Word document in order to conduct the experiment. The first question asked Have you ever been bullied? and had two variants of answers – yes and no. The fourth question, in contrast, was Have you ever been a bully? Second question was only for those who have been victims of peer abuse; these respondents had to choose the kind(s) of bullying they have undergone. They had four choices: verbal bullying (calling names, insults, offensive remarks, etc.), physical bullying (hitting, pinching, damaging of someone’s stuff, etc.), social bullying (spreading rumors, exclusion from social groups, etc.) and cyberbullying (bullying with the help of mobile phones or phone cameras through video or picture, e-mails, etc.) (Bradshaw, Waasdorp, O’Brennan, & Gulemetova, 2011). The above choices were also presented in the fifth section and were aimed at those who have ever been bullies. The third piece was about emotions people experienced after being bullied. Among the choices, one can single out uneasiness or depression, anger, an attempt to defend oneself, feeling loneliness or isolation, thinking that those insults may be true, rapid mood changing from solitude to anger.
After all the electronic forms were collected, the results were separated in the table for calculation and the expected data were obtained by using proportions. The final results in percentage were shown in Appendix.
The data received after the survey are as follows: 43 people out of 115 indicated that they have been bullied (first category) whereas 25 people stated they have performed as bullies (second category). Moreover, 13 people out of 115 appeared to be both victims of such abuse and victimizers (see Figure 1 for percentage correlation). The results confirmed the first part of hypothesis proving that there is a high probability for those who have been bullied to become bullies themselves towards somebody younger or weaker. Among these 43 victims, 27 mentioned verbal bullying as the main type of abuse they have most suffered from. Social bullying comes second, cyberbullying was third, and the final position was given to physical bullying (see Figure 2). The same hierarchy may be observed among those who acknowledged themselves as bullies; the only difference was the rate between physical and cyberbullying that appeared to be the same (see Figure 3). From such data, it is clear that verbal bullying is the most frequently used type of and, consequently, the most dangerous kind of abuse.
On the basis of the third question, we may see that participants from the first category stated that their feelings after bullying were mostly uneasiness and depression (19 people) and anger (13 people). The given information shows that words, which occurred to be the most popular kind of abuse, have the same power as physical actions and social neglection and can produce the same, if not bigger, trauma.
As expected, the experiment proved the evidence that there is a probability of bullied students to become bullies. However, the percentage of people ever suffered from this kind of abuse during school years was higher (37%) than the official statistics of the NCES (22%) (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2015). The possible explanation of this can lie in the fact that the NCES conducted its research by polling 16-18 year old students while the age group of the responders in our experiment was limited by the age of 20-25 years. The fact is that no one can tell for sure what happens to the child who has constantly been bullied. One should take into account that the same NCES states the fact that approximately 64 % of children being bullied do not report about it. The reasons are different: the fear of mockery, harder pushing, and the fear of rumors or making jokes. Therefore, not every child will be able to find courage to acknowledge the fact of being bullied. There is also clear evidence for accepting the possibility that even the participants of NCES report were not telling the full truth.
The hypothesis was largely confirmed by the data received. It showed that out of 25 of those, who were bullies, 13 acknowledged to be bullied. In other words, every second of bullies turned out to be previously bullied . It can serve as a proof for Yvon Delville’s theory that “a bully victim becomes a victimizer” based on the experiment with hamsters (Society for Neuroscience, 2015).
Further examination of the data showed that the most often cases of abuse were verbal (63%), social (30%), and cyberbullying (23%). It reflects that words can really hurt. Moreover, verbal abuse can even be more similar to physical and sexual abuse that people might admit. What makes the research valuable is the fact that those, who were bullied but later became bullies, demonstrated even higher rate of verbal bullying usage (up to 96%). This makes the childhood incantation Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me a bit untrue. Such things as ridicule and taunting are able to cause even more emotional trauma, especially when being delivered from child’s peers, and it can be especially traumatic when being delivered in front of other peers. It is not a secret that kids who experienced the cruelty of bullying are less accepted by their comrades that, in its turn, leads to the difficulties while starting friendship because of persistent social anxiety.
The data also demonstrated that 44% of bullied felt themselves uneasy, depressed, and wanted to cry; 13% felt anger and 11% felt loneliness or isolation. The probable explanation of this finding is that these symptoms are typical after-effects of stress. It will not be a mistake to say that bullying is primarily about stress. The very feeling of stress is produced by a part of the brain called amygdala that serves as an alarm center. To gain a better understanding, one can compare it with a radar that is always turned on and is ready to detect the lightest hints of a threat. The effect of extra sensitivity from bullying can be so strong that it makes it possible very often for the person to feel stress as far as he or she only thinks about the moment of bullying or remembers the face of the bully. Thus, that makes a victim feel scared even in safe situations. When the brain scans for danger nonstop, it is hard to concentrate, remember, and learn because of the state of constant alert. Such hypersensitivity makes receiving of even such basic needs as relaxing and enjoying life quite a difficult task.
The victims of bullying are in a big risk for health problems in adulthood because they are six times more likely to have serious illnesses compared to those who did not suffer from schoolyard abuse. Bullying of every type, whether social, physical, verbal, or cyberbullying, can result in long-term changes to the brain that, in turn, can lead to cognitive and emotional deficits. The more harm is done by child abuse, the more serious these deficits can be and the more probability for abused children to do harm to someone weaker than them arises. Additionally, it leaves a lasting mark on the brain, and the results of this research serve a good example of to what extend can bullying be spreaded when we leave this problem untreated.
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