THE STUDY MAY 11, 2012
Yesterday, The Washington Post published a lengthy account of Mitt Romney’s years at prep school. The article included several revelations about Romney’s behavior as a teenager, including a disturbing incident involving John Lauber, a “soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney” who “was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality.” In 1965, Romney played a key role in an attack on Lauber on the school’s campus. As the Post describes the incident, a group of students “tackled [Lauber] and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.” In addition to the incident involving Lauber, Romney was also known for tricking a nearly-blind elderly teacher into walking into closed doors. Hilarious! Pressed for comment on the Lauber incident, Romney’s campaign initially insisted he had no recollection of it. Later in the day, however, Romney offered a vague apology for what he described as youthful “hijinks and pranks.” Of course, to anyone not working in professional politics, the word for this behavior is simply “bullying.” What are its long-term effects?
A 2007 article in Pediatrics surveyed the impact of bullying behavior on both victims and aggressors, and it suggests that Romney emerged from his youth relatively unscathed. The sample included over 2,500 boys who were studied both at a young age and again as adults. It’s well-known that victims of bullying suffer long-term consequences (in that group, the authors found increased rates of “antisocial personality and anxiety and psychotic disorders”), but the bullies themselves exhibit disorders too. The “bully” status “predicted antisocial personality, substance use, and depressive and anxiety disorders.” Among those subjects who were frequently “only bully” (as opposed to “only victim,” “both bully and victim,” or “not frequently bully or victim”), nearly 18 percent exhibited psychiatric disorders later in life. That was twice the rate of those who had never been either a bully or a victim. And intriguingly, it was slightly higher than the rate among those who had only been victims.