Spanking May Affect Childhood Brain Development, Study Finds

A recent study by Harvard researchers said that spanking can affect a child’s brain development in the same way as more serious forms of violence.

Spanking May Affect Childhood Brain Development, Study Finds

A recent study by Harvard researchers said that spanking can affect a child’s brain development in the same way as more severe forms of violence.

The research, published recently in the journal Child Development, builds on existing studies that show increased activity in certain brain regions of abused children in response to threat signals.

The group found that children who were spanked had a greater neural response in several regions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), including regions that are part of the salience network. These areas of the brain respond to signals in the environment that tend to be significant, like a threat, and can affect decision making and the processing of situations.

“We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don’t consider spanking to be. a form of violence, “said Katie A. McLaughlin, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Social Sciences, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology and principal investigator of the study. “In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at the neurobiological level, in terms of brain development.”

Corporal punishment has been linked to the development of mental health problems, anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and substance use disorders, according to the study’s authors. And recent studies show that about half of parents in US studies reported spanking their children in the past year and a third in the last week. However, the relationship between spanking and brain activity has not been studied before.

McLaughlin and his colleagues – including Jorge Cuartas, lead author of the study and doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and David Weissman, postdoctoral fellow in the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology – analyzed data from a large study involving children aged 3 to 11 years. It focused on 147 children aged 10 to 11 who had been spanked, excluding children who had also suffered more severe forms of violence.

Each child was lying in an MRI machine and staring at a computer screen displaying different images of actors making “fearful” and “neutral” faces. A CT scan captured the child’s brain activity in response to each type of face, and these images were analyzed to determine if the faces triggered different patterns of brain activity in the children who were spanked compared to those who were not.

“On average, across the sample, fearful faces elicited greater activation than neutral faces in many areas of the brain … and children who received spanking demonstrated greater activation in more areas of PFC have fear relative to neutral faces than children who have never been spanked, ”the researchers wrote.

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