To spank or not to spank. For many parents, that is the question.
From decades of research, a conventional wisdom eventually emerged: Spanking children is linked to negative effects on behavior, including an increased risk of anxiety and depression.
Now, a study by Florida State University researchers sheds new light on how corporal punishment affects a child’s neural system to produce these adverse effects.
In a study of 149 children ages 11 to 14, scientists used a monetary guessing game and a video game-like task while measuring brain-wave activity from the scalp. With that data, each participant was given two scores. One of the scores reflected neural response to reward, the other a neural response to error.
Two years later, the children and their parents completed a series of questionnaires to measure parenting style, anxiety and depression. The researchers found that anxiety and depression were more prevalent among children who were spanked.
Beyond associating spanking with anxiety and depression, the researchers said their findings show corporal punishment might affect neurodevelopment and brain activity. The study’s spanked children had both a heightened neural response to errors and a diminished response to rewards compared with those who were not spanked. Beyond a clear association between spanking and an increased risk of anxiety and depression, it also suggests that spanking alters specific neurodevelopmental pathways, making children less reactive to rewards and more hypersensitive to mistakes.
Before raising your hand to a child, think about the long term: A spanking now might have emotional consequences later.