Disciplining your children is never easy – you know bad behavior needs to be corrected or your kids will never learn, but choosing the proper punishment is a challenge. Research on the subject often conflicts with years of family tradition. For instance, spanking is still a hot topic of debate in many American households. However, a study conducted by Murray Straus, a sociologist from the University of New Hampshire, may shed more light on the subject. Straus has contributed years of research on corporal punishment to the discussion, and according to him, a link exists between spanking and lower IQ scores.
Crime, punishment and stress
Before delving into the controversial world that is spanking, you should be clear on definitions. Corporal punishment refers specifically to a parent's or guardian's intent to cause pain, though not to injure, for the purpose of correcting bad behavior. While the safety of kids who receive spankings is not necessarily in jeopardy, the experience is still stressful.
When a parent announces that a spanking will occur, a child knows he or she is about to feel pain. The anticipation of the pain creates panic. Straus's research notes that it is this stress that distracts kids when they try to learn. Research on poverty has revealed much of the same – people who are under stress can't focus on learning, which causes them to develop a lower IQ than their peers who can focus.
Straus and research partner Mallie Paschall, senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, together analyzed data on children living in the U.S. The data samples included 806 children ages 2 to 4, and 704 children ages 5 to 9. They then looked at data of the same children when the kids were four years older. The comparison showed that kids who were spanked between the ages of 2 and 4 had an IQ score that was 5 points lower when they were older than kids the same age who weren't spanked. Additionally, children who were spanked between the ages of 5 and 9 had an IQ score that was 2.8 points lower than their peers 4 years later.
Straus also independently researched the link between child IQ and spanking in a similar way all over the world. He discovered that, internationally, spanking seemed to be linked to a lower IQ. However, he believes that it's not necessarily corporal punishment that causes a decreased IQ. Perhaps kids with lower IQs act out more, causing parents to spank them. Straus noted that low IQ leading to misbehavior and punishment leading to a decreased IQ are both possible causes for altered intelligence.