Spanking may alter neural responses similar to more severe forms of maltreatment in kids: Study
Corporal punishment defined as the use of physical force to cause a child to experience pain or discomfort, however light, such as spanking is common around the world. A recent study suggests that spanking may cause changes in the same areas of a child's brain affected by more severe physical and sexual abuse. The new study therefore provides another reason to avoid corporal punishment.
The study findings were published in the journal Child Development on April 09, 2021.
Spanking, is a socially normative and legal punishment method in over 130 countries. However, little is currently known about functional neural correlates of forms of corporal punishment. Therefore, Dr Jorge Cuartas and his team conducted a study to evaluate whether children who were spanked exhibited a profile of neural response to stimuli that suggests the presence of an environmental threat (i.e., fearful faces) that was similar to children who experienced severe physical and sexual abuse.
Researchers from Harvard analysed data from a large study of children aged between three and 11 who had spanked (N = 40) were monitored closely. However, this excluded kids who had been subjected to a severe level of violence. The researchers compared the neural function of spanked kids with those kCorporal Punishments of Kids is as Severe as Violent Abuse, Finds Studyids who were not spanked (N = 107). Each child was laid in an MRI machine and was shown a computer screen with various images of an actor making both neutral and fearful faces. While the children looked at the images, a scanner captured their brain activity in reaction to the different faces and compared the reactions from the two different groups.
Key findings of the study:
Upon analysis, the researchers found that children who were spanked exhibited greater activation in multiple regions of the medial and lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), including dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, dorsomedial PFC, bilateral frontal pole, and left middle frontal gyrus in response to fearful relative to neutral faces compared to children who were not spanked.
The authors noted that spanking does not affect each child in the same way, adding that some children can be "resilient if exposed to potential adversities."
They concluded, "These findings suggest that spanking may alter neural responses to environmental threats in a manner similar to more severe forms of maltreatment."
They further noted, "Growing evidence suggests that spanking is associated with deleterious cognitive and behavioural outcomes and changes in the neural processing of threatening emotional stimuli in children. The United States and other countries around the world should discourage the use of corporal punishment through public education and legal prohibition, following the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the robust scientific evidence on the harmful consequences of corporal punishment."
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