Research on Corporal Punishment
The term corporal punishment literally means “physical punishment” of any kind.[i] Therefore, this term includes every act of punishment from ordinary spanking of a disobedient toddler to abusive acts, such as face slapping, beating, kicking, punching, cutting, or even scalding. Disciplinary spanking has been defined as an act of punishment that is “physically non-injurious, intended to modify behavior, and administered with the open hand to the extremities or buttocks.”[ii] Spanking is one form of corporal punishment, but does not represent all forms of corporal punishment.
Very few research studies have focused on spanking and excluded the abusive forms of corporal punishment. In general, two major perspectives in the literature have emerged recently.
- The first is an unconditional anti-spanking position which opposes all forms of physical punishment. Supporting this position, Gershoff concluded in a 2002 meta-analysis of the literature that parental use of corporal punishment was associated with lower levels of moral internalization and mental health, as well as higher levels of aggression in children.[iii] Gershoff repeated these claims about spanking in her 2016 updated meta-analysis.[iv]
- The second position, which has been called the conditional-spanking perspective,[v] has attempted to identify conditions under which spanking may be beneficial or, at least, not detrimental to children. Larzelere and Kuhn provide support for this position with their 2005 meta-analysis which concluded that spanking in certain settings can be more beneficial than alternative methods in effecting optimal child behavior.[vi]
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the research on both sides of the debate.
[i] Random House Unabridged Dictionary. 2006. Retrieved November 5, 2007 at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/corporal%20punishment
[ii] ”Consensus Statements” in Friedman, Stanford B., MD, & Schonberg, S. Kenneth, MD (eds). “The Short and Long Term Consequences of Corporal Punishment.” supplement to Pediatrics, 1996; 98 (4):853.
[iii] Gershoff ET. Corporal punishment by parents and associated child behaviors and experiences: A meta-analytic and theoretical review. Psychological Bulletin. 2002;128(4):539-570.
[iv] Gershoff ET, Grogan-Kaylor A. Spanking and child outcomes: Old controversies and new meta-analyses. Journal of Family Psychology. 2016;30:453-469.
[v] Benjet C & Kazdin AE. Spanking children: The controversies, findings, and new directions. Clinical Psychology Review. 2003;23:197-227.
[vi] Larzelere RE & Kuhn BR. Comparing child outcomes of physical punishment and alternative disciplinary tactics: A meta-analysis. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review. 2005;8:1-37.