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Physiol Behav. 2008 Dec 15;95(5):617-24. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2008.09.001. Epub 2008 Sep 8.

Physiological stress response of young adults exposed to bullying during adolescence.

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Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Peer victimization in the form of bullying is a chronic social stressor experienced by many humans during development. Exposure to bullying has been associated with a variety of mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Participants pre-selected for the presence or absence of a history of being bullied were brought into a laboratory and placed in a stressful situation. Blood pressure, heart rate, and salivary cortisol levels were measured before the introduction of the stressor (Time 1), at the end of the stressor (Time 2), and after its removal (Time 3). Men with a history of exposure to frequent bullying showed blunted blood pressure responses at Time 2 compared to control men. Bullied and Non-bullied women did not show any differences in any of the measures. Men and women in both groups showed an increase in heart rate in response to the stressor. There were no significant differences in salivary cortisol levels between Bullied and Non-bullied participants. However, salivary cortisol levels and systolic blood pressure were lower in Bullied male participants who reported having no feelings of anger about their experience compared to controls and those who did report anger. These data show altered sympathetic responses to stress in men with a history of victimization as well as suggesting long-term effects on the HPA axis in the most affected individuals.

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