Bullying impacts genes and brains, says visiting Canadian professor

in Press Releases

Media Release - Wednesday 27 July

Being victimised and bullied can have a measureable effect on children’s brains and genetic development, according to a leading Canadian bullying expert.


Internationally recognised researcher Professor Wendy Craig is one of four keynote speakers at the seventh biennial National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB) Conference at Melbourne’s Crown Conference Centre on July 28 and 29. NCAB is an initiative of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.

Prof Craig said experiences, like the trauma of being bullied, leave a “chemical signature” and can adversely affect the brain.

“If the child has stressful experiences, the brain adapts negatively with too much or too little response,” Prof Craig said. “If the child has positive experiences, the brain adapts positively for learning, memory and regulation.

“Although bullying is a specific type of trauma in the context of peer interaction, the impact is often underestimated and the traumatic impact is minimised.”

However, the research had clearly linked peer victimisation, or bullying in adolescents, to major depressive symptoms. Prof Craig said about one third of girls and almost one half of boys who had been victimised, experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms.

She said studies had found that 48 per cent of students who experienced distress reported that cyber or traditional bullying was involved. About 54 per cent of students experiencing distress, required social work assistance. It is also important to note that those who witness bullying and are thrust into the position of deciding whether to intervene are also affected.

Prof Craig said research indicated that young children, between years 4 and 6, were likely to intervene in about 55 per cent of cases, while older children, in years 11 and 12, would do so in fewer than 10 per cent of cases. Intervention came with costs, with some students internalising and taking on some of the issues, and others finding their academic performance affected by the intervention.

Prof Craig emphasised that a major protective factor against the effects of bullying was to nurture strong relationships between fellow students and their teachers. This involved children experiencing expressions of care, challenges, adult support, sharing of power and a sense of having expanded possibilities.

The Alannah & Madeline Foundation CEO Lesley Podesta said a number of speakers at the NCAB Conference would highlight the long-term physical effects of bullying. Ms Podesta said thanks to new research, more studies suggested that parents and teachers needed to be aware of the full impact bullying might have on a child.

“The purpose of events like the NCAB Conference is to keep learning about the impact of bullying but also discover new resolutions and strategies to help inform how we might support children and prevent the behaviour happening in the future,” Ms Podesta said.

For further information on presenters and the NCAB Conference agenda go to www.ncab.org.au

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Media inquiries contact Adrian Bernecich: 03 9697 0683, 0416 045 701 or adrian.bernecich@amf.org.au.

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