The Effects of Corporal Punishment on Brain Activity, Anxiety, and Depression

By: April Carson



Corporal punishment has been used as a form of discipline for centuries. In recent years, however, there has been an increasing amount of research into the effects of corporal punishment on children's brain activity, anxiety levels, and depression symptoms. Spanking, for example, has been found to alter brain activity in regions associated with processing pain and emotions. Additionally, corporal punishment has been linked to higher levels of anxiety and depression in children.


A new study is investigating how corporal punishment might cause adverse effects by impacting neural systems.


Corporal punishment is "the intentional infliction of physical pain by any means for the purpose of punishment, correction, discipline, instruction, or any other reason." This violence usually carried out by a parent can cause complex emotional responses.


Kreshnik Burani, MS, and Greg Hajcak, Ph.D., from Florida State University set out to understand what causes the experience known as "cleaning briskly", and what effects it has downstream.


The study was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.


"Cleaning briskly" is a form of corporal punishment that is legal in the United States, and is still widely used around the world.


The longitudinal study was conducted on 149 children ranging in age from 11 to 14 years old. The participants were all local to Tallahassee, Florida and were put through a series of tests that gauged their brain-wave activity. These test included a video game-like task and a monetary guessing game which made use of electroencephalography, or EEG—a noninvasive technique that records electrical impulses produced by the brain.


The study found that those who had been spanked more frequently as children exhibited significantly more anxiety and depression as adolescents, compared to those who had not been spanked.


The researchers analyzed the EEG data and found that each participant's neural response to error was different from their Response to rewards.


As expected, the children who had experienced corporal punishment were more likely to develop anxiety and depression. Their parents completed a series of questionnaires two years later to screen for these disorders and assess parenting style.


While the study does not definitively prove that corporal punishment causes anxiety and depression, it does suggest that there is a correlation between the two.


Burani noted the findings of their paper, which replicated the well-known negative effect that corporal punishment has on a child’s wellbeing. They found that increased anxiety and depressive symptoms in adolescence are associated with corporal punishment. Additionally, they suggest that this could impact brain activity and neurodevelopment.


The adolescents who received physical punishments had a greater neural response to error and a blunted response to reward, which was reflected in their behavior. The researchers suggest that this could be a result of the stress that corporal punishment puts on the developing brain.


Burani stated that corporal punishment is linked to increased neural sensitivity to making errors and decreased neural sensitivity to receiving rewards in adolescence.


Dr. Hajcak's previous and ongoing work reveals that increased neural response to errors is linked with anxiety and predisposition to anxiety, while decreased neural response to rewards correlates with depression and vulnerability to depression.


"These findings have implications for how we think about corporal punishment," said Hajcak. "Specifically, they highlight the potential for corporal punishment to disrupt development of the brain systems that modulate our experience of anxiety and depression."


"Corporal punishment may change how children's brains develop in a way that makes them more prone to anxiety and depression. This is because it makes kids overly sensitive to their own mistakes while at the same time making them less responsive to positive things happening around them."


Cameron Carter, MD and editor of Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience expressed his thoughts on the findings suggested by this study. He said that by using EEG,we now have a new perspective into how corporal punishment affects a child's mental state as well as which neural systems are impacted negatively.


This new work uncovers how depression and anxiety are neural, and could direct future interventions for youth who may be at-risk.


"The finding that corporal punishment is linked with increased activity in the amygdala - a region associated with fear and anxiety - is particularly important," says Dr. Cameron Carter. "This adds to evidence from prior studies showing that corporal punishment is linked with increased risk for later psychiatric problems."














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About the Blogger:


April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com


To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav


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