Bullying is a worldwide problem in schools, at work and affecting people of all ages. And psychologists are trying to figure out why it happens and how victims are affected. An assistant professor at Clarkson University is currently working on a study to answer some of those questions, specifically the effect bullying has on someone's physical health. As our Cara Thomas found out, while there aren't concrete answers yet, researchers say they are finding some very interesting connections.
POTSDAM, N.Y. -- Never before has anyone found a direct correlation between bullying and physical health. But an assistant professor at Clarkson University is up for the challenge.
Dr. Jennifer Knack, an Assistant Professor of Psychology, said, "When people are targeting you and purposefully making fun of you, teasing you, hitting you, leaving you out of social groups, it's very much social pain. And I'm interested in how that overlaps with physical pain and our health."
After about five years of research, Dr. Knack thinks she might have found something. She says kids who are bullied tend to be sick more often. They'll have stomach aches, headaches, cold sores or sleep problems. And Knack is working with a group of Clarkson undergraduates to find out why.
"For a long time we thought it was just that they were saying that their stomach hurt so they didn't have to go to school so that they could perhaps avoid the bullies, but it seems like there's something a little bit more going on than that," said Knack.
Right now Knack and her students are studying the effects of bullying on adolescents and college students, gathering information about their social relationships, bullying experiences and physical health.
She said, "I'm interested in having people who are having interpersonal problems or poor relationships. But also people that are having very positive relationships so I can compare the differences."
She also collects saliva samples that are taken throughout the day, paying specific attention to a hormone called cortisol, which is directly connected with stress. And so far they've gathered data that shows a huge difference in cortisol levels between someone who has been bullied and someone who hasn't. And while the study team is excited about what they've found, they say it's still very early in the process.
Knack said, "We're definitely not saying that being bullied causes changes in hormones which causes health problems. But we are seeing long term associations."
She says they will continue working on the study when the students get back in the fall.
Doctor Knack has published a dozen articles over the last five years pertaining to her study on bullying. She says in the future, she will widen the age range in her research. She hopes to study people as young as pre-schoolers to senior citizens to find the effects of bullying throughout someone's life.