How Corporal Punishment for Children Leads to Anxious and Depressed Teens

It’s no wonder that spanking children can have detrimental implications for children’s well-being. Still, a new study is examining the impact of spanking on neural pathways in the brain, which shows precisely how this form of punishment produces these effects.

Spanking is only one form of corporal punishment. Others include hitting, twisting arms, or any other use of physical violence as a means of punishment or discipline (usually inflicted by a parent onto a child).

The study consisted of almost 150 children (both boys and girls), aged 11-14. EEG monitored the children to measure their brain activity while they engaged in tasks such as playing video games and guessing games. The EEG allowed the scientists to identify two sets of neural responses: one for error, and one for reward.

After two years, the children were assessed via questionnaires for anxiety and depression, and their parents were evaluated for parenting styles. “As expected, kids who had experienced corporal punishment were more likely to develop anxiety and depression.”

But this study goes beyond the well-known findings that corporal punishment can bring about emotional consequences for the child, and shows that it might also have an effect on neurodevelopment, how their brains evolve. This was shown in their EEG – teens who had been physically punished as kids had a bigger response to error and a much smaller response to reward. These teens had increased neural sensitivity to making mistakes, while at the same time, less sensitivity to being rewarded, all of which can allow anxiety and depression to develop.

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