The Brain Science Behind Bullying: Why Tylenol Reduces Social Pain

David Palank

This Article is a Guest Post at

A student’s social status faces no bigger threat in schools than bullying.

In research, schools with a higher bullying rate, subsequently had lower scores on algebra, geography, earth science, biology, and world history. At first glance, bullying and academic achievement should not be related because one is academic and one is behavioral. This is not a coincidence. While bullying has taken the mainstream media by storm in recent years, the neuroscience behind what truly happens to students is usually absent from these reports.

Bullying is most detrimental to students when others stand by and do nothing while the harassment occurs. The brain perceives the bystanders as participating in the action because their lack of action is processed as a tacit endorsement of the bullying.  On a psychological level, we think that bullies speak for everyone. We are wired to believe that if this person has socially rejected us, then the masses have rejected us.

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Bullying is dangerous because social pain actually activates the same neural circuitry as physical pain. This means that the system in the brain that sends pain signals is hijacked when one is in social pain or is exposed to a social threat.

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