Risks of Harm from Spanking Confirmed by Analysis of Five Decades of Research.
Gershoff, Elizabeth T.; Grogan-Kaylor, Andrew.
Journal of Family Psychology, Apr 7 , 2016.
AUSTIN, Texas — The more children are spanked, the more likely
they are to defy their parents and to experience increased
anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive
difficulties, according to a new meta-analysis of 50 years of research
on spanking by experts at The University of Texas at Austin and the
University of Michigan.
The study, published in this month’s Journal of Family Psychology,
looks at five decades of research involving over 160,000 children. The
researchers say it is the most complete analysis to date of the outcomes
associated with spanking, and more specific to the effects of spanking
alone than previous papers, which included other types of physical
punishment in their analyses.
"Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as
spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors,” says Elizabeth
Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family
sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. “We found that spanking
was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not
associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are
parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”
Photo of Univ.Texas at Austin
Gershoff and co-author Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, an associate
professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work, found
that spanking (defined as an open-handed hit on the behind or
extremities) was significantly linked with 13 of the 17 outcomes they
examined, all in the direction of detrimental outcomes.
“The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of
a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children. Spanking thus does
the opposite of what parents usually want it to do,” Grogan-Kaylor says.
Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor tested for some long-term effects
among adults who were spanked as children. The more they were spanked,
the more likely they were to exhibit anti-social behavior and to
experience mental health problems. They were also more likely to support
physical punishment for their own children, which highlights one of the
key ways that attitudes toward physical punishment are passed from
generation to generation.
The researchers looked at a wide range of studies and noted that
spanking was associated with negative outcomes consistently and across
all types of studies, including those using the strongest methodologies
such as longitudinal or experimental designs. As many as 80 percent of
parents around the world spank their children, according to a 2014
UNICEF report. Gershoff notes that this persistence of spanking is in
spite of the fact that there is no clear evidence of positive effects
from spanking and ample evidence that it poses a risk of harm to
children’s behavior and development.
Both spanking and physical abuse were associated with the same
detrimental child outcomes in the same direction and nearly the same
“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct
behaviors,” she says. “Yet our research shows that spanking is linked
with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly
Gershoff also noted that the study results are consistent with a report released recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that
called for “public engagement and education campaigns and legislative
approaches to reduce corporal punishment,” including spanking, as a
means of reducing physical child abuse. “We hope that our study can help
educate parents about the potential harms of spanking and prompt them
to try positive and non-punitive forms of discipline.”
For more information, contact: Kristin Phillips, College of Natural Sciences, 512-232-0654.