Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience

, Volume 19, Issue 6, pp 1467–1478 | Cite as

Links between adolescent bullying and neural activation to viewing social exclusion

  • Michael T. Perino
  • João F. Guassi Moreira
  • Eva H. TelzerEmail author


Neuroscientists who have studied bullying have primarily focused on the psychopathology of diagnosable offenders or the resulting symptomatology of victimization. Less attention has been given to theories that suggest that bullying may be an interpersonal strategy. In an exploratory study, we recruited a sample of adolescents (N = 24) who engaged in high rates of delinquent behavior and collected self-report ratings of bullying behaviors. During an fMRI scan, adolescents observed instances of social exclusion and social inclusion. The adolescents’ self-reported bullying was associated with greater ventral striatum, amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex, and insula activation when viewing social exclusion > social inclusion. Activation in these regions is commonly associated with reward-learning, salience monitoring, and motivational processes, suggesting that bullies show altered processing of interpersonal cues and social dynamic experiences in their environment. Our findings highlight the need for developmental neuroscientists to further explore the role of social motivation in processing socio-affective information, with a particular focus on goal-directed antisocial behavior.


Bullying Aggression fMRI Cyberball 



The authors thank the members of the Developmental Social Neuroscience Lab at the University of North Carolina, Chapel-Hill and the Biomedical Imaging Center at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign for their help and support on the project. They also extend thanks to the schools, administrators, and counselors who helped with recruitment of participants for this project.


This manuscript was partially supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF SES 1459719 to E.H.T. & NSF Graduate Fellowship 2016220797 to J.F.G.M.), the National Institutes of Health (R01DA039923 to E.H.T.), the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH 2T32MH100019-06 to J.L.L), and generous funds from the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors report no biomedical financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.


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© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael T. Perino
    • 1
  • João F. Guassi Moreira
    • 2
  • Eva H. Telzer
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryWashington University School of Medicine in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychology & NeuroscienceUniversity of North Carolina, Chapel-HillChapel HillUSA

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