Over 5 decades of research have shown the negative effects of using corporal punishment to discipline our children. Now a study conducted by researchers at Florida State University looks at what happens to the “brain on corporal punishment.” In this study, 149 participants between the ages of 11 to 14 years performed “video game-like tasks and a monetary guessing game” while an EEG recorded their brain waves. Specifically, the EEG assessed the participants neural response to errors and their neural response to rewards. Two years later, the teens and their parents completed a series of questionnaires screening for parenting style as well as the adolescents’ level of anxiety and depression.
As seen in previous studies, corporal punishment was associated with increased anxiety and depression. However, this study also revealed that corporal punishment was associated with how the participants processed making errors and receiving rewards on a neural level. Specifically,
- Adolescents who received physical punishments showed a larger neural response to errors. They reacted more strongly to making mistakes.
- Adolescents who received physical punishment also showed a “blunted response to rewards.” They did not respond as strongly to rewards as those who did not receive physical punishment.
These neural responses directly impact our children’s levels of anxiety and depression. Specifically, an increased response to making errors is associated with anxiety. A decreased response to rewards is related to depression.
In other words, using corporal punishment as a major tool for discipline actually changes how your children respond to making mistakes and how they respond to rewards on a neural level. It changes how your children’s brain functions in processing information about mistakes and rewards. That change increases the risk of anxiety and depression.
So how can you discipline your children without corporal punishment? Without increasing the risk of long-term depression and anxiety? That’s a great question. Here are some resources to help you discover the many alternatives: