Tom & Jerry & Bullying

By Adriana Diaz 10.12.2012 blog

What do mice know about bullying?

Turns out they know more than you think. Mice are territorial rodents. When a smaller mouse is put in the same cage as a bigger mouse, the bigger mouse will act aggressively and “bully” the little guy. Scientists at New York’s Rockefeller University are studying these furry friends (or in my case, furry enemies) to see how bullying affects the brain.

For National Anti-Bullying Month (October), Channel One producer Kitama Cahill-Jackson and I interviewed one of the researchers of the mouse study. He told us that after a smaller mouse was bullied by the bigger mouse, it would act timid, scared and would try to stay far from the larger mouse. What’s interesting is that when that same smaller mouse is then put in a cage with a non-threatening mouse of its same size, it still acted timid, scared and stayed away from the other mouse. This shows that a bullied mouse become less able to interact with all mice, not just it’s bullier.

When the scientists later examined the brains of the bullied mice, they found high levels of a certain hormone that’s associated with stress and anxiety disorders in humans (which I thought was interesting). The good news is that after some time passes, the bullied mouse’s brain chemistry is able to return to normal.

We spoke to some high school students in New York to see what they thought about the mouse study and how it might relate to teen bullying among humans. Some thought that when teens are bullied, they too become more timid and less able to interact with others. But other students thought comparing mice to humans was crazy. One teen boy told me that the only thing humans and mice have in common is their affinity for cheese! What do you think?

Can a study about mice reveal how bullying affects humans? Tell me in the comments, or on or Twitter.

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