How Bullying Affects Children's Brains

When a child suffers from continuous bullying, they'll experience changes in their brain. Let's see what research reveals about how bullying affects children's brains.
How Bullying Affects Children's Brains
María José Roldán

Written and verified by the psychopedagogue María José Roldán.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

We all know how damaging bullying is for children who endure it on a daily basis. Its consequences, unfortunately, can be fatal. That’s why we want to talk to you about how bullying affects children’s brains.

If you know any child who’s been bullied, then you know that the consequences can be both physical and mental. In fact, thanks to the UOC (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) we’ve learned more about this. Particularly through the interesting study that’s been carried out at King’s College London (UK).

How does bullying affect children’s brains?

According to the study we mentioned above, it’s clear that continuously suffering from bullying can cause physical and mental changes. This can make children prone to mental illnesses in the future.

A teenage boy sitting on the floor at school, surrounded by a group of bullies.

This is easy to understand, following the words of María José Acebes, a neuropsychologist who works as a collaborator at the UOC:

“It’s been proven that our surroundings and environment influence our nervous system and the development of our brain. They generate a decrease in the volume of the corpus callosum, a structure that connects the cerebral hemispheres. Which is fundamental for the proper functioning of the brain”.

Bullying also affects the prefrontal cortex, which can cause difficulties in successful problem-solving. It also makes it difficult to manage more intense emotions. Ongoing treatment is necessary for the affected person so that they can properly manage what they’re experiencing. Moreover, this will help them to prevent mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety from developing in the future.

In addition, with this constant emotional stress and the triggering of mental illnesses, there’s a greater likelihood of phobias, self-injurious behaviors, and even suicidal ideation. And, in the most complicated cases, it can lead to suicide itself.

At the same time, post-traumatic disorders can also develop due to being constantly on alert and anxious. This feeling can cause the person suffering from the problem to have serious physical and emotional problems. This is how bullying affects children’s brains.

The research: how bullying affects children’s brains

The research took place in the United Kingdom and involved studying the brains of different adolescents between the ages of 14 and 19 years. Those who had endured prolonged bullying had a decrease in the brain areas where calmness resides, increasing anxiety.

The positive part of the study is that, in adolescence, the nervous system can modulate. What’s more, the brain, as it’s still developing, can unlearn what it’s learned and, with the necessary support, be able to re-establish the connections that return it to a state of peace and tranquility. That is, without having to live in a learned and constant state of alertness.

In adolescence, the most common form of bullying is group bullying. In a group, bullies become crueler and, therefore, they act “as a herd”. They do everything as a gang, leaving out and tormenting their victim.

Adolescents tend to want group approval and in bullying the victim, they express those insecurities that they don’t want others to notice. In addition, social networks can make bullying worse, longer, and deeper.

Solutions against bullying

An elementary school boy suffering from bullying.

It’s vital to seek solutions among everyone in order to prevent bullying from becoming a bigger problem than it already is. It’s important that all schools have rules in place. This will ensure that any type of direct, indirect, or online bullying, is treated as a serious offense.

Therefore, it’s advisable for schools to inform the proper authorities, depending on the seriousness of the facts. In this way, the appropriate consequences can be sought for the aggressor. And the victim, in addition to gaining protection, can find the necessary tools to cope with the situation.

In all this, it’s essential to give prominence to those that witness bullying, so that they don’t remain silent and they report what they witness. They should also have protection and feel an obligation to report any bullying that another classmate’s experiencing. This way, it’s easier for the school to solve the problem without having to go through criminal proceedings.

In short, both bullies and victims should have quality psychological help. Both can suffer mental illnesses in the future that will condition their lives. And all this is preventable if we all follow the same path of good coexistence and respect for others and for ourselves.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.