In a second study, participants were again tested in ostracizing and neutral conditions, as well as in an ostracized condition (here, participants were intentionally left out of the game). Those who actively shunned others felt more guilt, shame, and anger than those in the neutral or even the ostracized condition. They were also the only group to report diminished autonomy.
Of course these studies examined immediate or short-term effects of social exclusion, and may not be reflective of long-term consequences for victims or bullies. Unfortunately, emerging longitudinal work out of Duke University suggests that the repercussions of bullying may persist long after the event, even into adulthood. In a sample of over 1200 children and adolescents, for example, roughly 25 percent reported being bullied at least once before the age of 16, and those who were bullied had higher levels of anxiety disorders as young adults. A number of other studies indicate that children who are ostracized may in turn become aggressive toward others, and in the Duke study 20 percent of those who were bullied were also aggressors. Those who were both victims and bullies experienced the most significant long-term consequences, with the highest rates of depressive disorders, generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and suicidality.
It seems then that bullies may have as much to lose as their victims. The good news is that in recent years a number anti-bullying campaigns have emerged, including school programs, support websites, and social media efforts (e.g., Not in Our School, Love is Louder, It's My Life, Stop Bullying). In 2011, Lee Hirsh produced the documentary Bully, which highlighted five different cases of abusive, destructive bullying and spawned The Bully Project, an initiative lauded by mainstream media and endorsed by numerous celebrities, including Katie Couric, Martha Stewart, Naya Rivera, Cory Monteith and others. Even President Obama has joined the fray, supporting public policy and legislation aimed at extinguishing bullying in schools. If these anti-bullying initiatives and policies prove effective, maybe, just this once, everybody wins.
Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.