Spanking a Child Is as Damaging and Severe Violence and Abuse, Study Says

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Corporal punishment, such as spanking a child, can be equally damaging as severe violence and abuse, according to a new study. Researchers claim it can have an impact on brain development, which could lead to severe mental health conditions,

Harvard Study on Corporal Punishment

According to a new study conducted by researchers at Harvard, kids who received spankings had a greater neural response in multiple regions in their prefrontal cortex, which these experts say shows that corporal punishment can be just as damaging as abuse or severe violence, The Sun reported.

The study was published in the journal Child Development, which analyzed data from a large study of children between the ages of 3 and 11. But more specifically, the Harvard study made a more detailed analysis of 147 children between the ages of 10 and 12 who had been spanked, while excluding any children who had been subjected to abuse or severe forms of violence.

Effects of Spanking Can Mimic Severe Abuse

To test the emotional responses of children, the researchers placed each of the 147 children who had been spanked in the past, but subjected to no abuse or severe violence, in an MRI machine. Each child was shown a computer screen with different images of an adult actor who would either make neutral or fearful faces. The MRI then captured the brain activity as it reacted to the different faces, and then compared the reactions between the children who were spanked and children who were never spanked.

The researchers wrote in their published report that, on average, when looking at the effect, fearful faces elicited a larger response than neutral faces in many different regions of the brain. The researchers said the findings on kids who had been spanked are equivalent to previous research on the brain activity of children who had suffered from severe violence. The researchers said this indicates that a child’s brain may not be able to differentiate between spanking and abuse or more severe violence.

Spanking Risks Developmental Damage

“It’s more a difference of degree than of type,” said lead author of the study Katie McLaughlin, adding that she hopes the research will “open people’s eyes to the potential negative consequences of corporal punishment in ways they haven’t thought of before.”

“By identifying certain neural pathways that explain the consequences of corporal punishment in the brain, we can further suggest that this kind of punishment might be detrimental to children and we have more avenues to explore it,” the study authors wrote. “The important message is that corporal punishment is a risk that can increase potential problems for children’s development, and following a precautionary principle, parents and policymakers should work toward trying to reduce its prevalence.”

Every Child Is Different; Some Are More Resilient

In conclusion, the experts say the findings are not applicable to the individual life of each child. In other words, spanking does not affect each child in the same way. Some children can be “resilient if exposed to potential adversities,” the researchers said.