You may have seen my post on the long term health risks related to bullying over the summer. A new study by Michael Murphy of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, has linked repeated experiences of teen rejection to a decrease in strength in one’s immune system. The study focused on teen-aged girls and not surprisingly. While many students discuss bullying this type – social rejection or what I’d call relational aggression – is most commonly reported among girls; I often call it the Mean Girls mentality when working with teens.
Repeated experiences of being targeted can keep a person’s stress response system on high alert at all times. In this latest study, researchers point out that social rejection is particularly damaging:
High social status in both humans and animals tends to protect against the negative health effects of chronic stress. However, social rejection — which can be a threat to social status — may be different from other types of stresses….The authors found that girls who had recently been targeted for rejection —which can include everything from bullying and ostracizing to being “dropped” by a peer group or friend —had higher levels of substances indicating activation of genes that produce two specific inflammatory proteins, nuclear factor kappa-beta and inhibitor of kappa-beta.
Furthermore, girls who were on top of social totem pole responded strongest to social rejection. “But because targeted rejection threatens social status, the authors say, it could produce far more stress in those who have more to lose because they’re at the top.”
It would then make sense how a study from UCLA in May of this year found that students who bully were also students perceived as popular and well liked. Those students, it would seem, bully as a means to protect the social clout they have. I wrote about that study here.
The continued scientific research about bullying and relational aggression is necessary for clinicians to create sound interventions. As I’ve said, we grow and live in a world of relationships and we have to help our young people foster healthy relationships, not only for their mental health, but physical as well.
Mean girl photo available from Shutterstock