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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

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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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