Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What Makes Bullies’ Brains Brighten?

Is it possible bullies can’t help being bullies? According to a recent study from the University of Chicago, behaving like a bully gives bullies pleasure.

Dr. Benjamin Lahey, a psychologist and co-author of the study had expected that bullies would be indifferent to the pain of others. Contrary to expectations, Dr. Lahey found that when 16- to 18-year-old boys observed videos depicting painful situations, both accidental and intentional, they registered brain activity in pleasure-related and pain-related areas. Additionally, their brain scans showed NO activity in the portion of the brain that helps regulate self-control.

Not only do bullies experience pleasure from seeing people in pain, but they are likely to respond to perceived “threats” or “insults” with knee-jerk, out-of-control behaviors—a dangerous combination that is positively reinforced every time they bully somebody.

What can be done? Dr. Lahey looks to the development of therapies to either treat or compensate for bullies’ lack of self-regulation.

For further work with students and communities regarding school bullying, visit the Olweus Bully Prevention Program site. This program began in Bergen, Norway, with the research of Dan Olweus, Ph.D., and is jointly supported in the United States by Hazelden (Minnesota) and Clemson University, where many people have been trained in the Olweus system and are now dispersed across the nation.

Thank you to Jackie Dishner, The Bike Lady, for drawing my attention to this study.

Jean R. McFarland, Ph.D. Author of Bullies Among Us, What To Do When Work's No Fun

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