Spanking could affect a child’s brain growth in similar ways to more acute forms of violence, according to a new study headed by Harvard researchers.
The study, published recently in the journal Child Development, builds on existing studies which reveal increased activity in certain areas of the brains of children who experience abuse in reaction to threat cues.
The team discovered that kids who were spanked had a higher neural response in numerous areas of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), such as in areas which are a part of their salience network. These regions of the brain react to cues from the environment which tend to become consequential, like a hazard, and might impact processing and decision-making of scenarios.
“We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don’t think about spanking as a form of violence,” said Katie A. McLaughlin, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study. “In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing.”
According to the study’s authors, corporal punishment was connected to the growth of mental health difficulties, depression, anxiety, behavioral difficulties, and substance use disorders. And recent studies reveal that roughly half of parents from U.S. research reported spanking their kids in the last year and one-third of yesteryear. On the other hand, the connection between brain and spanking activity hasn’t previously been analyzed.
McLaughlin and her colleagues–such as Jorge Cuartas, first writer of the research and a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and David Weissman, a post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Psychology’s Anxiety & Development Lab–examined data from a large study of children between the ages of 3 and 11. They concentrated on 147 kids around ages 10 and 11 who were spanked, excluding children that had also undergone more severe types of violence.
Each child “It’s important to consider that corporal punishment does not impact every child the same way, and children can be resilient if exposed to potential adversities,” said Cuartas. “But 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.”lay in an MRI machine and observed a monitor on which were exhibited different pictures of celebrities which makes “fearful” and “impartial” faces. A scanner caught the youngster’s brain activity in response to every sort of face, and those pictures were examined to ascertain whether the faces sparked distinct patterns of brain activity in children who were compared to people who weren’t.
“On average, across the entire sample, fearful faces elicited greater activation than neutral faces in many regions throughout the brain… and children who were spanked demonstrated greater activation in multiple regions of PFC to fearful relative to neutral faces than children who were never spanked,” researchers wrote.
By contrast, “(t)here were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked.”
The findings are in line with similar study conducted on children who had undergone severe violence, indicating that “while we might not conceptualize corporal punishment to be a form of violence, in terms of how a child’s brain responds, it’s not all that different than abuse,” said McLaughlin. “It’s more a difference of degree than of type.”
Researchers said the analysis is a first step towards further Interdisciplinary evaluation of spanking’s possible impacts on children’s brain growth and also life experiences.
“These findings aligned with the predictions from other perspectives on the potential consequences of corporal punishment,” studied in fields such as developmental psychology and social work, said Cuartas. “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.”
But, they noticed that their findings aren’t related to the individual life of every child.
“It’s important to consider that corporal punishment does not impact every child the same way, and children can be resilient if exposed to potential adversities,” said Cuartas. “But 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.”
Finally, additional McLaughlin, “we’re hopeful that this finding may encourage families not to use this strategy, and that it may open people’s eyes to the potential negative consequences of corporal punishment in ways they haven’t thought of before.”
Related Journal Article: https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cdev.13565