Bullying has a direct effect on the brain. Research shows that when a person feels under threat, heart rate and blood pressure increase. Reason is suspended as the brain seeks ways for the body to escape the impending threat.
The stress caused by bullying behaviour can actually damage or destroy brain cells in the part of the brain where memories are stored or retrieved. Stress and anxiety caused by bullying and harassment affect learning in the following ways:
- Reduced learning and ability to engage in high-level thinking
- Impaired ability to focus and maintain attention
- Increase in rote behaviours
- Increased difficulty storing or retrieving information from memory
Bullying behaviour therefore has a major negative impact on the learning environment. Research shows that students who are bullied in school have trouble concentrating on their work and have lower levels of academic achievement.
Studies also show that students who are bullied are more likely to simply stay away from school and have a higher dropout rate. There is also evidence that long-term stress or threat weakens the immune system. Students who are bullied are more likely to require mental health assistance or other social assistance, and are more likely to engage in substance abuse and delinquent behaviours.
Studies in Scandinavia, Japan, England, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States confirm:
- Bullying causes a great deal of emotional distress to others, and its effects on those who are bullied last for decades, perhaps even a lifetime.
- Negative effects are not limited to those who are bullied. Though not always immediately obvious, people who engage in bullying behaviour also suffer negative consequences, and those consequences increase over time.
- Many people who engage in bullying behaviour have a downwardly spiraling course through life, their behaviour interfering with learning, friendships, work, intimate relationships, income and mental health.
- Children who engage in bullying behaviour can grow into anti-social adults and are far more likely to commit crimes and physically abuse their spouse and their children; they also pass on bullying behaviour from one generation to the next.
- Bullying behaviour can be a desperate and damaging way for some people to maintain a circle of human contacts.