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Spanking lowers a child's IQ, researcher says

September 24, 2009 |  6:00 pm

Being spanked as a child is linked to having a lower IQ, according to a study presented today at the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma in San Diego.

The relationship between spanking and intelligence is found in children around the world, said the lead author of the study, University of New Hampshire professor Murray Straus. Children in the United States who were spanked had lower IQs -- by 2.8 to 5 points -- than those who were not spanked, Straus found.

Straus studied 806 children ages 2 to 4 and 704 ages 5 to 9. Both groups were retested four years later. How often parents spanked influenced IQ score. "The more spanking, the slower the development of the child's mental ability," Straus said in a news release. "But even small amounts of spanking made a difference."

Straus and his colleagues looked at corporal punishment practices in 32 countries by surveying 17,404 university students. The analysis found a lower average IQ in nations in which spanking was more prevalent. The strongest link between corporal punishment and IQ was for those whose parents continued to use corporal punishment even when they were teenagers.

"It is ... time for the United States to begin making the advantages of not spanking a public health and child welfare focus, and eventually enact federal no-spanking legislation," he said.

How would spanking impact intelligence? Straus suggests that the chronic stress created by regular spanking creates post-traumatic stress symptoms in children. PTSD is linked to lower IQ. Economic status also underlies both spanking practices and IQ, Straus said, a leading researcher on corporal punishment. His studies were funded, in part, by the National Institute of Mental Health.
 
Another study, reported earlier this month in Booster Shots, found that many poor children are spanked at ages as young as 1 and that the practice is tied to more aggressive behavior by age 2 and delayed social-emotional development by age 3.

-- Shari Roan

Spank

Spank1

Photos: The top chart shows the correlation between parents who use corporal punishment with teenagers and the nation's average IQ. The bottom chart shows the more spanking, the greater the likelihood of post-traumatic stress symptoms. Credit: Murray Straus, University of New Hampshire.

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Comments (77)

The TRUTH is that school children are treated differently in our great nation based on where they live. A middle school student in Texas DIED by having his chest crushed when his teacher sat on him to restrain him, a Texas high school student suffered deep bruising and welts to his lower back, buttocks and back of his legs when he received 21 "licks" with a wooden canoe paddle, which broke during the beating and had to be taped to continue the beating, a 9-year- old Georgia 3rd grader suffered deep bruising injuries when he was paddled with a WOODEN PADDLE 3 TIMES IN ONE DAY (Decatur Co. Schools, GA AFFIRMED CORPORAL PUNISHMENT POLICY 9/17/09) and a Publicly Funded Charter School in Memphis, Tennessee physically punishes middle/high school boys and GIRLS weekly during a ceremony called "Chapel" by hitting them with wooden paddles and/or whipping their hands with leather straps IN FRONT OF ALL THE OTHER STUDENTS AS A DETERRENT to publicly induce shame, humiliation and fear! The school employees in the above actions have LEGAL IMMUNITY and are STILL paid by our tax-dollars to be ENTRUSTED with the care and education of our children! Physical punishment of schoolchildren is NOT education’s "Best Practice" if it is ILLEGAL in 30 states. U.S. Congress is currently holding hearings on Abusive and DEADLY practices in SCHOOLS and MUST ABOLISH Physical/Corporal Punishment Nationwide of ALL Children in ALL Schools, The Cost is $0. Doesn’t it just make sense for all of us to keep our hands off of other people’s children? Our children's Health and Safety in Schools comes first. Pushing for anything less than an outright ban on all forms of classroom abuse reveals a gap in the administration's professed commitment to making schools better, safer, and stronger.

Please, reader, consider the source of this misinformation.
It comes from the pusillanimous liberals. Los Angeles, California; the home of more anti-Christian, anti-moralist, Anti-decency, you name it.

Some of Americas brightest people were spanked and disciplined! Anything such as this blather, coming out of Los Angeles, the sin Capital of the world, should be ignored and/or spoken against. The charts are disingenious that are shown in this so-called research.

Paul

I am a twin. My sister and I were both spanked by my mother. Even if one of us was not at fault, we would both be taken into the restroom and spanked with a wet hand. My sister has a higher IQ than I do. Why is that? If we were both exposed to the same amount of spanking, we're twins, why is she and always will be smarter? I have a feeling that our nature's held an enormous key. Perhaps she was a little less scared of my mother and more likely to shake it off. Where as my PTS was much higher, so I failed more. We both graduated, neither went to college. Both are parents and married. She became an alcoholic, I never did. She was in abusive relationships. I never was. Been married six years, she has been remarried twice. This research needs to go beyond four years..maybe twelve or fifteen before putting out this type of information. I think having a lower IQ is definitely underrated. I'm not stupid by any means, but I know that who your spanking makes more of a difference than spanking. So to be safe, better to ease up on that hand. My children are wonderful, but spanking before age two or three is really ridiculous. They are babies, they really can't understand what they are doing or the punishment being administered. That is very unwise, but its not too late to make some changes in your attitude.

There is a big difference between finding an association and finding a cause-effect relationship. Observational studies do not show cause. I suspect there could be a few cofounders which explain why children who are spanked have a lower IQ without spanking being the true cause. The title "Spanking lowers a child's IQ is not appropriate.

Could it be that kids with a lower IQ tend to be spanked more often than kids with a higher IQ? Also, the data reflects both "spanking" and "hitting"--the latter being abusive, the former quite possibly not. It may be the case that "abuse" causes, on average, a lower IQ, but this data cannot statistically discern between a correlation between abusive "hitting" and certain non-abusive forms of spanking. Of course, the assumption here seems to be that spanking is abusive, which quite nearly assumes the conclusion... That is why the conclusions of this research are pure junk.

This study is inconsistent and does not have data to support corporal punishment or no corporal punishment.
What are the variables? What type of cp? How is it defined? There are several types. Why are parents using cp? Is it because the child is in danger? Is the child misbehaving? Is the child exhibiting behaviors that are not responding to other means of punishment? Was there a control group? What is the education and the mean income level of the parent? Were they single parents? What other punishments are being utilized? Were the children or the parents interviewed? What is the time span? What was the common factors the cp group had compared to the children with no cp? What is the margin of error? What evidence based evaluation tools other than a standard IQ test-which was found to be VERY biased, was utilized? Was this population specific? This study should not be looked at as evidence based practice because of the unfounded and unmeasurable data.
OH...sorry...I may be wrong...I was spanked therefore, my questions must have no merit...I guess my college degree from the University of Michigan is counterfeit. By the way, all of my 3 children were spanked too and...wow...they are honor students and MUST suffer from PTSD.

Here in Arkansas, we like our aggressive kids. We don't like them to have smart mouths. Real often we say that we don't spank enough. So, where high school and college ball sports matter more than the three Rs and our general health, we'd like to be turning out more of the aggressive sort, but with mouths still smart enough to stay in school and out of jail. I don't guess that Murray fellow is going to tell us how we might smack them around enough to make them tougher than the kids from Mississippi without making them dumber.

I am sorry to say, but this is a a stupid report and is in my opinion a bunch of liberal bunk.
Spanking a child, not beating, has nothing to do with IQ. In honesty, it probably helps most kids to be better mannered and respectful.

Interesting article. However, what it doesn't seem to cover is outside factors, or what would constitute a child to need a spanking. A parent who spanks a child for anything under the sun would be a totally different variable than for a parent that would only spank except under extreme circumstances.

This feels more like an agenda to convince parents not to spank children than anything else. Honestly, what should occur is better parenting all the way around so that spanking wouldn't need to enter the picture but on rare occasions if at all anyways.

Spank me stupid! I've been a bad boy!

Actually, you don't have to get so technical with charts and all: pro-corporal punishment rationales are plenty proof of how dumb-making it can be. The most famous: "I was spanked as a child and I turned out all right." Bully for you; the jails are full of people who were spanked as children.

In fact, the thesis must be true. Think of how many kids are spanked for being "smart."

This is yet another of of those studies where the premis is wrong form the outset. A more appropriate and dare I say obvious study would be the relationship between corporal punishment and the level of education of the parents. I would venture a solid guess that as the eduction level of parents rises the use of corporal punishment decreases.

Also, as the parents are not particularly well educated themselves the drop in a child IQ's could be attributed to the lack of mental stimulus while they are growing up.

I wouldn't say that the act of slapping a child actually reduces the childs IQ as much as it is the environment within the kid is raised.

This looks like a classic example of the fallacy of confusing correlation for causation, or "post hoc ergo propter hoc" as we pompously term it in Latin. I don't have any opinion at all about the effects of spanking on IQ, but I'm annoyed at the abuse of statistics. Even as Strauss notes, both higher spanking rates and IQ are correlated with lower economic status. He nicely illustrates how to undermine his own weak argument - perhaps poverty leads to lower average IQ, and the spanking just happens to tag along.

It is possible, since we don't have the actual text of the research paper, that the LA Times is simply misrepresenting a solid study. One way or the other, the newspaper takes much of the blame here. Either they are doing a shoddy job of reporting sound research, or they are representing spurious reasoning as a credible result.

It bears emphasizing that the paper may not be WRONG in its conclusions - the causative link is a conceivable one. But they certainly don't argue the point very persuasively.

2.8 or 5 points doesn't sound like a lot. How many points results in a just noticeable difference in intelligence, i.e. if two individuals have iq's of 108 and 103, would anyone know the difference. What differences would result. This story does not give us a bottom line. If normal is 85to 115, explain differences of intelligence in appropriate increments within this range.

Thank you,
Patrick

My wish

I am writing because I feel like just giving up. I moved to Florida ten years ago to make a better life for my two daughters who had been molested and abused by their father. I had no assistance from victim witness program to relocate but I did it. I will say God did it. I wanted the girls to grow up and be somebody without drugs and prostitution in their lives. I wanted them to get an education and just be safe from the bad environment.

Well along the years of the two growing teens I have had a lot of problems. The single mom problems. One of the daughters was very disobedient when she was about 13 and I spanked her. I had these girls in counseling several times. That did not really work. The single mom issues they do not get sympathy. At that time I also had another child who was very young in 1998 my youngest was 2 years old. Well the older children did not want to baby-sit their brother and they left him alone. When I got home from work I was upset. I tore her behind up like any parent would have at least my parents and other black parents. Well my daughter was so afraid that I would find out where she really was and why she left her brother so she panicked and called the police. I was arrested and released in a few hours. Back then I had no legal help and I was lost. I pled no lo cotendo. That plea left me with a miserable life for since 1998 I have not been able to find work. I get hired and when they do the background I have been let go from the jobs. The companies give several excuses. I can not rent most apartments will not rent to me even with good payment history.

I have gone back to school twice. I received my cosmetology degree and I am now near graduation to receive a bachelors in business. I believe even if I received a doctorate I will not get a job.

My two daughters are now living good lives and are in college. I was successful in helping them put their lives on track now I do not have a chance to even provide for my son who now is 10 years old . These children are honors students. They all had spankings.

My wish is to be able to provide a home where my son can have the same opportunity his two sisters had. I am now homeless. My son is 14. The charges on my record are preventing me from living a free life. I cannot find work because no one will hire me. Now they say I am too old. I have been wrongfully charged and I cannot afford money to have this removed from my records. It is not fair or human. I am not a criminal.


Sincerely , Miss Maximum L Nelson
Po Box 592420
Orlando, Florida 32859


Phone 321-746-2423

I suspect "spanking" is part of a broader pattern of parental behavior (as well as culture and environment) that retards child development, and not by itself a cause.

This is a flawed study. The first reason I say that is that most older adults are from an era when not only spanking was "normal" but so were a lot of other types of punishment that we would not even think of doing today. So, if this is a good, unbiased and accurate study, how do you account for the lawyers, doctors, political figures, scientists, chemists, nurses, judges, and a host of other much older adults in very complicated jobs where intelligence defines the position?

Give me a break! I agree that abuse (not defined by organizations that seek to get new funding for their cause and existance), most likely does have an effect on a person's performance when tested. However, there are just too many variables that can scew the results to say that it is all about getting a tap on the rear-end. What about economic conditions, exposure to television, games, ect., how much time does each care person spend with the child reading and teaching, nutrition (is it equal), housing (is there mold, loud noises, fighting, drinking?), what are the parent's IQ?, Are all the parents in the home, did a divorce occur, break up, job loss, and on and on and on. To say that spanking alone resulted in a difference in IQ, is evidence that the reporter may have a lower IQ than his subjects.

As has been previously noted, there is confusion in the article over correlation and causation. Is there a correlation? Yes. Is spanking the only possible variable at play? No. Someone here mentioned how there is a correlation between poverty and corporal punishment, and I've read previous studies on the link between poverty and intelligence. Did the researchers take that into consideration? If they did, then the article here does not say so, and if they didn't, then they are sloppy researchers.

Also, there is a margin of error in IQ tests (I may be wrong, but I remember once reading that it is 3). Was that factored in? If so, again, the article neglects to mention it.

As a political scientist, and a mathematics/statistics nerd, it saddens me to see social researchers using the only quantitative measuring tool they have in such a dishonest (or, to give them the benefit of a doubt, inept) manner.

To poster Paul E. Tooley Sr., you really need to work on your reading comprehension. The conference was in San Diego, not Los Angeles. You, like the researchers, do not fully grasp distributions. To call an entire region the "sin Capitol of the world," and to propose that we should ignore everything and anything that comes from it is beyond ignorant, it's a clarion call to perpetuate ignorance. Besides, the research presented in the article came from New Hampshire and was merely presented to an audience in San Diego (again, not L.A. as your wrote twice). Is New Hampshire also a vile and sinful place?

Though in your defense, Los Angeles has produced some abominable filth in the past, the most notable being Ronald Reagan.

The thing not being reported here is, that the results all seem to be within the margin of error, based on the sample size. I see no correlation here, but then they are not giving sufficient data for one to do an analysis to confirm the results. My IQ can vary from day to day, based on how I'm feeling when I take the test. There are so many variables and so little control over such surveys, that it would be unprofessional to draw such conclusion based on so little evidence. This is an uncontrolled study. But out by someone with an agenda. I try not to spank, but there are valid reasons why one could or should. Using reason and taking away privileges is a far more effective and probably far more stressful punishment. My daughter would much rather have a spanking than to lose TV, sweets, and park privileges.

WHAT?????? I spanked both of my children - I did not
BEAT them - I use a switch or my hand - We also used
time-outs, grounding and when they were older we took
their vehicles and privileges - Both were honor students AND by the way - today BOTH are Doctors - one
a PhD and the other an MD - Thank You

Wow...some of the responses that uses the argument, "This is a lib-rul study so it's obviously wrong"!
Hey great argument my conservative friends! It sadly appears that many of you were in fact spanked...repeatedly...as small children through your teen years. What a wonderful example of reasoning. This goes along way in explaining how we got a man like Bush as president. “I looked into Putins heart so I knew I could trust him”. (paraphrased)

This "study" - I use the term loosely - is a monumental waste of time and money. It is also the most irresponsible, dummest thing I've heard in a LONG time. Not discipling our kids enough is why kids are turning out as they are - unthankful, disrespectful, etc. Kids NEED structure - and at times, discipline, which sometimes includes spanking. I don't condone spanking that gets taken to the extreme and can be rightly called abuse. There's a BIG difference between spanking/discipline and "hitting." It is your God-given responsibility as a parent.

AGAIN WHAT????? Mike how do you go from spanking to electing George Bush as President - we have a NEW President - maybe you should have been spanked so you could read and understand the news - WOW!!!!!

Someone should spank the editor who gave this article a green light

Another explanation: (a) People who beat their kids tend to be idiots (and bullies), and (b) intelligence is largely inherited.

 


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