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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



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)

If kids get used to being spanked, they are less likely to need to think through any consequences which could contribute to lowering their I.Q.

Being able to think critically is interrupted by corporal punishment.

The study found -- "(t)he strongest link between corporal punishment and IQ was for those whose parents continued to use corporal punishment even when they were teenagers ." I think this sums it up. I can see how spanking a teenager could have the potential for results reflected in IQ scores. I'm sorry, but I personally don't see the same potential when the issue is spanking younger children.

This assault on children is all cruel bible trash!!

I'm sure spanking lowers IQ if you just spanked the kid and then gave them the IQ test. What about the ethical/moral foundation spanking provides?

Obviously, if parents are hitting their kids while they're mad at what they did and don't have self control, that's not productive and IS abusive. The spanking I received as a kid was the best punishment for me at that stage in my life and has since shown me my parents cared enough to go to the trouble to correct my bad behavior. My IQ is in the 150 territory AND my ethical standards are off the charts. Explain that one?

Why is money being wasted on studies like this when we could find other more IQ and life skill damaging things to change... like public schools? Looks like KidsRpeople2 started that focus above.

Misleading title. It should read, "Correlation found between spanking and lower IQ scores." At least the article is honest enough to note that lower income families in the US spank more, opening a host of other correlations that might either explain the relationship to IQ independent of spanking, or at least share the load.

In face, "load" is a good slang for this article's conclusions.

There appears to be a *correlation* between spanking and IQ. That doesn't mean there's a cause and effect relationship, and there are a lot of other variables that should have been considered.

An IQ score is just a number; not every intelligent person is going to score highly and vice versa.

How about dumb parents are likely to spank more. Dumb people usually have dumb offspring?

Crap. I'm the author of the study and I just realized how stupid this study was and that I was never spanked. Damn pesky hypothesis! Forgot to test to see if you could have a low IQ and have never been spanked.

I take it all back. Someone spank me please for being so naughty!!

"...spanked OR HIT A LOT..."

That's weighting the survey results. Being "hit a lot" and being spanked are completely different. By associating the two in the question, the survey automatically links the two as one, thereby classifying spanking as child abuse.

The fact that that kind of wording was used in the questionnaires makes the results completely biased and irrelevant. If you're going to conduct a survey on spanking, conduct a survey on SPANKING, not on spanking AND being hit.

Sounds like a lot of people here are made quite uncomfortable by the findings of this study. Could it be they don't want to admit to themselves that in choosing violence, their first priority is not disciplining the child but in finding an outlet for their own anger and frustration?

It always amazes me how parents are so self righteous and think nothing of disrespecting their children by smacking, hitting, and otherwise being abusive in ways they would never do to any friend or colleague yet don't think twice about it. They would never allow anyone to treat their child that way. If you don't respect your children they won't respect you. Just because they are doing what you say - it's not necessarily a good thing -they are just building a huge wall of resentment and fear toward the parent - completely unhealthy - not just for them but for us as a society who then deal with the horrendous repercussions. Your children aren't "property" - respect them or don't have them!! I'm sick of hearing parents whine about how bad their children are - learn how to be a better parent!! As for the article - waste of time - stupid people react/act violently - duh. Use your words!!!!!!!

I'm curious how many of the posters who have criticized the methodology, statistical analysis, or conclusions of the study have read the actual study. Newspaper reports of a scientific article are bound to emphasize the sensational aspects of the story and give short shrift to the nitty gritty technical details. Sensational headlines grab readers and technical details lose them. It also is apparent that at least some posters possess a little statistical and/or methodological knowledge, but not enough. For example, several posters have commented on the "margin of error" in IQ scores, implying that since the difference in mean IQ scores between spanked and non-spanked kids is so small there is really no difference. I haven't read the article, either, but I assume that the authors ran the appropriate tests of statistical significance, which take into account the IQ test's "margin or error."

It also fascinates me that so many right wing posters immediately respond to the article in ideological terms, dismissing it out of hand as some sort of liberal propaganda. This is typical of all ideologues, whether right wing or left wing: when facts contradict your ideology, just dismiss the facts. The fact that is reported here is simply that higher levels of spanking correlate with lower IQ scores. It is very difficult to know what this fact means without an in-depth look at the study and its data. It could mean that spanking causes reductions in IQ, but it could mean lots of other things (e.g., lower IQ children somehow cause their parents to spank them more; lower IQ parents, who are likely to have lower IQ kids, use spanking more than higher IQ parents, etc.)

And by the way, anecdotes that seem to contradict the findings are meaningless when trying to understand group data.

Final comment: maybe you shouldn't comment on things about which you are ignorant and/or uninformed. Of course, if people followed that rule, there would be very few comments in these discussions.

Bravo, Michael D. A reasonable voice, finally!

I hope this "study" was not funded by our tax dollars.
The professor needs to review best fit analysis on his first graph.
You can do it in Excel, or Openoffice macros.

If we did fund it, we deserve a refund.

This is ridiculous. I got spanked tons when I was a kid (deservedly so) and I'm now #2 in my high school class. These studies aren't scientific, they're some people trying to make a political statement. My kids will be spanked if they misbehave, I've been a kid and time out just doesn't do it.

When I was in high school back in the late 80's and early 90's, our health teachers taught us that if discipline--even physical--is to be done correctly, then it must be consistent. This was common teaching during that time. In other words, if you only spank when you feel like it, or spank without telling your child why you are doing it, then your discipline would be ineffective. Why have we gotten away from this. The Bible says to "spare the rod...," you know the rest, I'm sure. That will never change. This research is bull-oni. I do agree, however, that spanking should not occur frequently, only when absolutely necessary. If there are a bunch of spankings going on, logically, a child will grow immune to the spankings and/or the parent should notice that the method just doesn't work and move on to something else.


Baloney! Nuff said!

Child buttock-battering vs. DISCIPLINE:

Child buttock-battering for the purpose of gaining compliance is nothing more than an inherited bad habit.

Its a good idea for people to take a look at what they are doing, and learn how to DISCIPLINE instead of hit.

I think the reason why television shows like "Supernanny" and "Dr. Phil" are so popular is because that is precisely what many (not all) people are trying to do.

There are several reasons why child bottom-slapping isn't a good idea. Here are some good, quick reads recommended by professionals:

Plain Talk About Spanking
by Jordan Riak,

The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children
by Tom Johnson,

by Lesli Taylor M.D. and Adah Maurer Ph.D.

Most compelling of all reasons to abandon this worst of all bad habits is the fact that buttock-battering can be unintentional sexual abuse for some children. There is an abundance of educational resources, testimony, documentation, etc available on the subject that can easily be found by doing a little research with the recommended reads.

Just a handful of those helping to raise awareness of why child bottom-slapping isn't a good idea:

American Academy of Pediatrics,
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,
Center For Effective Discipline,
PsycHealth Ltd Behavioral Health Professionals,
Churches' Network For Non-Violence,
Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
Parenting In Jesus' Footsteps,
Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment of Children,
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In 26 countries, child buttock-battering is prohibited by law (with more in process). In fact, the US was the only UN member that did not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

All the hardcore fundamentalists -- such as some of the cats commenting here most likely -- almost always were in trouble with the law and then claim to have had a profound come-to-Jesus. Great.
But you know what I'd rather see: You break the law, then you decide to become law-abiding, and that's it, end of story. That would show me you had some self-control.
But no, you guys always reflex to religion.
When I see an aggressive fundamentalist and I see an ex-felon. The fundamentalism is just a smoke screen, a stealth cloak if you will. Brought to you from a happy sinner in LA.

What a load of crap. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome from a spanking. Hopefully this study was not funded by taxpayers, but no there's little doubt ol' Murray didn't do it on his own dime.

Your choice...

Spank them when they're young to teach them there are consequences to one's bad behavior...


...the cops will shoot them when they're 21.

Wow, we need research to show what should be common sense, stressing kids out with beatings is traumatic. They can't focus. It seems the only people that spank their kids are dopey themselves.

Uh oh, it sounds like Paul was spanked as a child. If he had a higher IQ he might have noticed that this study is based on research from the INTERNATIONAL conference on violence. Don't create people like Paul E. Tooley. Don't beat your kids.

I take offense to all these posters who are saying that "the only people that spank their kids are dopey" and "their first priority is not disciplining the child but in finding an outlet for their own anger and frustration". I am speaking, not as someone who spanks their kid, but as a kid who got spanked.

My mother NEVER hit us in frustration or anger. She took the time to sit us down, explain why what we did was bad, and make us understand that if we did something wrong, there were consequences. Then she paddled us with reasonable force, a counted number of times, and sent us on our way. And we LEARNED from it. We didn't act like the spoiled, screaming brats I see walking around the stores and malls and streets today. We knew if we did something stupid, we'd feel the pain later.

I'm sorry, but spanking is not violence unless you're doing it wrong. If you hit a child in anger, that IS abuse. If you spank a child as a reasonable form of discipline, it is not.

Oh, and by the way? My mother was a schoolteacher who had taught all ranges, from grade school to college. I graduated with a 3.96 GPA. I scored a 32 on my ACT test and got a scholarship to college for it, IN THE 7TH GRADE. I skipped a year of school because I was too advanced and already knew the curriculum. I am currently working as a professional in the technical industry.

I THANK my mother for disciplining me properly. I wish more parents did.

One more comment. There is a large body of scientific literature supporting the conclusion that corporal punishment is both ineffective and harmful. Research on this topic has been conducted by many researchers in different countries for decades and the conclusion is clear: corporal punishment is ineffective and harmful. The study mentioned in this article is only one of a large number of studies. Even if you disagree with the conclusions of this particular study, there are a lot of other data leading to the same conclusions. If you want to be taken seriously when disagreeing with these conclusions, you should cite some evidence. Writing things like "I was spanked and I'm smart," or "the Bible says so," or "this is just liberal crap," or "the study is wrong," or "children who aren't spanked become criminals" simply reveals your scientific illiteracy and doesn't remotely address the study in question or the large body of evidence consistent with the study.

Why am I wasting my time? This is a country in which millions of people believe that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time and in which presidential candidates can say they don't believe in evolution and still be taken seriously. So go ahead, hit your kids to your heart's content. Damaging your kids only gives my kids an advantage.



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