Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Spare the rod . . .

please. I mention this subject only because it is really, really important. Murray Strauss was really the first person to gain prominence for academic investigation into family violence. Although we have always known that parents hit children and spouses hit each other, it was something that people used to take for granted and indeed, husbands hitting wives used to have strong endorsement from clergy -- as parents hitting children still does today among right-wing "Christians."

Spanking and other corporal punishment, Strauss now finds, is actually associated with lower IQ in children. I'm not necessarily as worried about IQ -- it's kind of overrated if you ask me -- as I am about how it affects children's basic understanding of how the world works and how to get your way in it. People tend to think that we teach our children by telling them what's right and wrong and by rewarding and punishing them, but that's not really how it works. We teach them how to behave by the way we behave -- it's called Social Learning Theory. Here's one simple explanation:

Aggressive responses can also be acquired through social modeling or social referencing. Small children are likely to look to a familiar face to see how to react to a particular person or situation. By demonstrating aggression, one can unknowingly encourage aggression in suggestible children. One of the most popular current debates which centers around the idea that TV violence contributes to increased aggression in viewers exemplifies the idea that people are easily influenced by others' behavior. By modeling the behaviors of TV, movie or video game characters, acts of aggression become increasingly more frequent and violent. Researchers suggest that after aggressive behaviors are acquired, other factors serve to maintain their presence including self-reinforcement, in which the aggressive individual is proud of his or her harmful action.

Well, if just watching aggressive behavior on TV can make kids violent, what do you think happens when their own parents hit them? And if you're one of those materialist types who wants to see "hard" evidence, how about this from Tomoda et al in the journal Neuroimage (Aug. 2009, suppl):

OBJECTIVE: Harsh corporal punishment (HCP) during childhood is a chronic, developmental stressor associated with depression, aggression and addictive behaviors. Exposure to traumatic stressors, such as sexual abuse, is associated with alteration in brain structure, but nothing is known about the potential neurobiological consequences of HCP. The aim of this study was to investigate whether HCP was associated with discernible alterations in gray matter volume (GMV) using voxel-based morphometry (VBM). METHODS: 1455 young adults (18-25 years) were screened to identify 23 with exposure to HCP (minimum 3 years duration, 12 episodes per year, frequently involving objects) and 22 healthy controls. High-resolution T1-weighted MRI datasets were obtained using Siemens 3 T trio scanner. RESULTS: GMV was reduced by 19.1% in the right medial frontal gyrus (medial prefrontal cortex; MPFC, BA10) (P=0.037, corrected cluster level), by 14.5% in the left medial frontal gyrus (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; DLPFC, BA9) (P=0.015, uncorrected cluster level) and by 16.9% in the right anterior cingulate gyrus (BA24) (P<0.001, uncorrected cluster level) of HCP subjects. There were significant correlations between GMV in these identified regions and performance IQ on the WAIS-III. CONCLUSIONS: Exposing children to harsh HCP may have detrimental effects on trajectories of brain development. However, it is also conceivable that differences in prefrontal cortical development may increase risk of exposure to HCP.

It is absolutely urgent to change cultural norms so that adults no longer hit children.


kathy a. said...

this neurodevelopmental study just documents brain changes correlating with what has long been known about developmental consequences of trauma/abuse. some people need the picture version, i guess.

Lynn said...

This report was in the Daily Telegraph. If you go to their web-site and read the story on-line, then read the ensuing comments, I'd have to say that "changing cultural norms" will be a long, uphill battle. Almost all commenters ridiculed Straus' report and going off the disclosures, violent discipline of our kids is rampant throughout families and is indeed, considered a positive necessary to develop a longer term society full of stable, harmonious living adults! My view is that we, as parents, need to read and absorb the results that Straus and others come up with. HCP is child abuse, and child abuse leaves detrimental effects.

Anonymous said...

Yeah but the reward/punishment schema has been with us since the earliest written records - e.g. Education in Sumeria, where, afaik, the ppl who objected to the violence, mainly beating etc. were a) the parents, b) the priests/admins (were one class.) And so it goes on. The teachers held a lot of power.

In big corporations, and state bureaucracies, the same schema is applied, see big bonuses, free sex, adulation, versus humiliation. Much of the violence is physical, in the form of hazing, sexual violence, even beatings, rape and murder, usually covered up or pushed under some other rubric. As can be seen in prison culture (US), in the military, a need to control, harm, hurt, torture, demean, and kill in a one on one power relation.

I am against any kind of corporal punishment for children. Or anyone else...

Children are not fools, they watch TV, they know what is going on. (That is a separate point.)


Greenwayark said...


Thirty years have passed since Sweden banned parents from smacking their children.

But Liberal Party MP Helena Bargholtz is dismayed to learn that New Zealand is holding a referendum to reintroduce the practice.

buy cialis said...

wow interesting, I didn't know that this was a symdrome, even that I guess they should be some treatment for this because it's not peoples fault.