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Born to be a bully?

- Lorela U. Sandoval () - December 6, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Little has been said about the potential role of genes in bullying, and yet some continuing scientific researches and findings conducted abroad reveal that the behavior may be partly genetic.

As a matter of fact, genetic influences appear to be the most significant factor in bullying, and that psychological traits can be highly influenced by genes, according to a study spearheaded by Harriet A. Ball and published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. The study shows that there are particular characteristics in an individual that make him prone to bullying or to becoming a bully-victim, among which are hair color, body weight, and even personality traits like timidity.

Another study conducted by Dr. Thalia Eley of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, Dr. Jim Stevenson of the University of Southampton, and Dr. Paul Lichtenstein of The Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and published in The Child Development Journal, shows that an aggressive antisocial behavior, such as bullying, is more prone to being genetic than non-aggressive antisocial behavior, such as delinquency and theft, which is highly influenced by social environment. Non-aggressive antisocial behavior, however, has been said to be more genetic among girls.

For Dr. Vanessa B. Cainghug, a child and adult psychiatrist at St. Luke’s Medical Center, Global City, bullying can be inherited. She elaborates, “One is when the child inherits the family value system or the lack of it and the family’s views regarding violence, among other things; second is a person’s personality characteristics can be inherited.”

30-year-old mom Grace (not her real name) thinks there must be some truth to such findings, at least for her case. She confesses to being the type who is quick to anger and cannot control the outburst of her emotions. Her pre-schooler son, who goes to a private school in La Union, might have acquired this trait of hers, she says, thereby manifesting in his so-called bullying behavior in class.

Dr. Cainghug has this to say on Grace’s case: “It’s very possible that the bully inherited his mom’s characteristics, imbibed the way his mom expresses anger at home, or another theory is that the bully has internalized his aggressor (his mother) to deal with the issue of a very punitive mother. Another theory is that the bully has problems of his own, like a very possible ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), conduct disorder, or bipolar disorder which are again also can be inherited.

Further research also claims that children with personalities that are, by nature, more aggressive, impulsive, or domineering, have a higher potential of becoming bullies, aside from having ADHD and other related conditions.

And surprisingly, even the emotional response of a bully-victim may be genetic, too, medical experts say. Dr. Cainghug explains by quoting Dr. Karen Sugden of Duke University, which was published in the Journal of American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: “Children’s bullying victimization leads to their developing emotional problems and that genetic variation in the 5-HTTLPR moderates this relationship. Specifically, frequently bullied children with the SS genotype were at greater risk of developing emotional problems at age 12 than were children with the SL or LL genotype.” This means that if a bully-victim’s genetic makeup is susceptible to sadness, depression, fear, and the like, chances are his emotional response to the bullying behavior may be aggravated by said emotions.

Research also says that there have been discoveries of genetic similarities among bully-victims who experienced emotional problems such as depression later in life.

 But even with such scientific findings, things are not automatic as it seems. Which means bullying can’t be blamed on genes alone. “For me, bullying is the result of multiple factors, including genetics, family background, and social environment combined,” says Dr. Cainghug. “The family background and home have a lot to do with the bully’s behavior. He may be experiencing problems at home which manifests in bullying.”

For instance, as simple as talking badly about another person’s business or somebody else’s child in front of your own children is, definitely, a no-no, Dr. Cainghug tells us. “It is possible that her children will inherit her thinking, personality, and values which can lead to their being bullies themselves.” Needless to say, everything that transpires at home has some effect on children, she reminds us.

Medical experts, nevertheless, strongly believe bullying can be changed, prevented, or avoided with early detection and proper guidance. Just the same, they say not all bully-victims develop emotional problems as a result of bullying. But in dealing with the bullying behavior, it needs to be understood that bullies, or bullying, are not of the same kind.

For Dr. Cainghug, there are physical bullies, verbal bullies, cyber bullies, and bullying by extortion or gestures. There are also the hyperactive bully, detached bully, social bully, and bullied bully, among others, as enumerated by author Susan Coloraso in the article “What Causes Bullies?” of Jane St. Clair.

Coloraso explains the hyperactive bully does not comprehend social cues, which explains his inappropriate and physical reactions to even the slightest of situations; the detached bully is conniving: He is charming to everyone, except his victim, and plans his assaults; the social bully influences other people by spreading gossip and meanness toward his victim, but in truth, he has a poor sense of self; and the bullied bully has been bullied and finds relief by bullying others, too.

All these bullies, though, are said to have one common denominator: They attack people because they see threats — even if there are actually none.

Dr. Cainghug gives this friendly advice to parents: “The bully’s mother has to know her child’s misbehavior in school.” Parents should talk with and listen to their bully child, as well as talk with the bully-victim’s parents so they can work together in resolving the issue, she further suggests.

But not only that, even the bully-victim needs help, too. “Bullying is a result of imbalance so strengthen those around the child so the bully does not sense their weakness,” suggests Dr. Cainghug.

With the continuing studies on the potential role of genes in bullying, these scientists and medical experts admit they have yet to prove the exact genes that lead to aggressive and non-aggressive antisocial behaviors. Said to be taken into account in the research of Dr. Eley and her team is the possible participation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and the enzymes acting as potential instruments that bring about such genetic effects.

So, while it’s true that several genes contribute to bullying, “the exact gene for bullying has not yet been isolated,” Dr. Cainghug concludes.

BEHAVIOR BULLIES BULLY BULLYING CAINGHUG CHILD DR. CAINGHUG GENETIC
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