Saliva Clue to Chronic Bullying

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Hormones in children's saliva may be a biological indicator of the trauma that children undergo when peers chronically bully them. Researchers from Penn State University have described how biological markers can aid in the early recognition and intervention of long-term psychological effects on youth.

JoLynn V. Carney, Associate Professor at Penn State, indicated that bullying is mainly either self-reported by students or observed by teachers. Carney and her team looked at the hormone cortisol in students' saliva to evaluate its validity as a reliable biomarker in assessing effects of precursors to bullying. In humans, this hormone is responsible for regulating behavioral traits such as the fight-flight response and immune activity that are connected to sensory acuity and aspects of learning and memory.

A lot of bullied children suffer in silence. When students have opened fire in their schools or have committed suicide, they were reacting to chronic peer abuse. Many of these students were not coping with the abuse by seeking appropriate support. They keep their anger and frustration within and fantasize either how they are going to escape the abuse through suicide or how they are going to get revenge on their abusers. When a person senses a threat, cortisol levels spike, and learning and memory functions are negatively affected. The body basically focuses the bulk of its attention on surviving the threat. The longer such a spike continues, the more damage it can do to various aspects of one's physical, social, and emotional health.

However, when a person undergoes a lengthy period of stress similar to the chronic bullying experience, researchers have found less than normal cortisol reactions that are related to a decreased sensitivity to stress, a sort of numbing or desensitizing effect. This hypocortisol finding has serious physical and psychological implications for children--both for victims and bystanders. …