Time Magazine 26 Sep 09
The debate over spanking goes back many years, but the essential question often evades discussion: Does spanking actually work? In the short term, yes. You can correct immediate misbehavior with a slap or two on the rear end or hand. But what about the long-term impact? Can spanking lead to permanent, hidden scars on children years later? On Sept. 25, a sociologist from the University of New Hampshire, Murray Straus, presented a paper at the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma in San Diego suggesting that corporal punishment does leave a long-lasting mark — in the form of lower IQ. Straus, who is 83 and has been studying corporal punishment since 1969, found that kids who were physically punished had up to a five-point lower IQ score than kids who weren’t — the more children were spanked, the lower their IQs — and that the effect could be seen not only in individual children but across entire nations as well. Among 32 countries Straus studied, in those where spanking was accepted, the average IQ of the survey population was lower than in nations where spanking was rare, the researcher says.
…Still, it’s not clear if spanking causes lower cognitive ability or if lower cognitive ability might somehow lead to more spanking. It’s quite possible that kids with poor reasoning skills misbehave more often and therefore elicit harsher punishment. “It could be that lower IQ causes parents to get exasperated and hit more,” Straus says, although he notes that a recent Duke University study of low-income families found that toddlers’ low mental ability did not predict an increase in spanking.
…One problem with Straus’ data is that some of the parents who tended to spank may also have been engaging in actual physical abuse of their children. Researchers define corporal punishment as physical force intended to cause pain — but not injury — for the purpose of correcting a child’s behavior, not simply hurting him. Studies have shown that very few parents who use corporal punishment also beat their kids, but Straus can’t rule out the possibility that his data are confounded by the presence of child abuse, which past research has shown to affect victims’ development.