LivingBullying alters the structure of the brain

Bullying alters the structure of the brain

The study suggests that there may be physical structural differences in the brains of adolescents who are routinely bullied.

Bullying has serious health effects

Previous research revealed that child bullying has negative health consequences and can generate significant costs for individuals, their families, and society in general.

The new work, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, suggests that bullying can also cause physical changes in the brain and increase the likelihood of mental illness.

Erin Burke Quinlan, from King’s College London (United Kingdom) and her team, had the participation of more than 600 young people from different European countries, who were given a questionnaire and carried out brain scans.

The participants were part of the IMAGE project. The aim 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 that of young people who had not been victims of chronic bullying. The analysis showed that severe bullying was related to changes in brain volume and anxiety levels at age 19.

Changes in the brain

The study confirms previous research results that linked bullying to mental health problems, but it also revealed something new: Bullying can decrease the volume of parts of the brain called the caudate nucleus and putamen.

The caudate plays a crucial role in how the brain learns, specifically how it processes 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 state that physical changes in the brains of adolescents who were constantly bullied explain – in part – the relationship between peer victimization and high levels of anxiety at age 19.

“Although not classically considered relevant to anxiety, the importance of structural changes in the putamen and caudate for the development of anxiety probably lies in its contribution to related behaviors, such as reward sensitivity, motivation, conditioning, attention and emotional processing, “clarifies Erin Burke, leader of the work.

The researchers hope to see more efforts to combat bullying in the future, as peer victimization is becoming a global problem that could lead to physical changes in the brain, generalized anxiety, and high costs to society.

Reference: Peer victimization and its impact on adolescent brain development and psychopathology. Erin Burke Quinlan, Edward D. Barker, et al. IMAGE Consortium. Molecular Psychiatry (2018) | DOI:

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