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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Refrain from Spanking to Avoid Harming Young Brains

Child sitting at table coloring with crayon

andrea piacquadio/

About half of U.S. parents spank their children on occasion, and a third have reported having done so in the previous week, although numerous studies have found that corporal punishment is linked to mental health issues, anxiety, depression, behavioral problems and substance abuse in children. A new Harvard study has further clarified the harm with a finding that spanking alters children’s brain development. The scientists tested 147 children ages 10 and 11 that had been spanked and used MRI to measure their neurological responses to photos of people with angry or neutral faces. Compared to peers that had not been spanked, the children had greater activation in multiple regions of the prefrontal cortex region of the brain to angry faces—a fearful response similar to that of abused children. Those areas of the brain respond to environmental cues that could be consequential, such as a threat, and may affect decision-making and processing of situations. “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,” says senior researcher Katie A. McLaughlin. “It’s more a difference of degree than of type.” 

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