Bullies may gain health benefits from their behavior that last into adulthood, researchers said Monday. And in turn, children who are bullied can suffer long-lasting inflammation.
“Our study found that a child’s role in bullying can serve as either a risk or a protective factor for low-grade inflammation,” said William E. Copeland, one of the researchers and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine. “Enhanced social status seems to have a biological advantage.”
Copeland added “there are ways children can experience social success aside from bullying others.”
The work was published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers used the Great Smoky Mountains Study, which has gathered information from 1,420 people from 11 North Carolina counties for more than 20 years. The researchers looked at a marker of inflammation called C-reactive protein. The participants were interviewed and provided blood samples.
C-reactive protein is affected by conditions such as poor nutrition, lack of sleep and infection. “But we’ve found that they are also related to psychosocial factors,” Copeland said.
The researchers looked at victims, “pure” bullies and children who were both. Bullying involves repeatedly mistreating another person to improve or retain one’s status.
Earlier studies have shown that victims of bullies suffer socially and emotionally into adulthood, including increased levels of depression and anxiety. Such children also report physical problems and susceptibility to illness.