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Study on corporal punishment shows damage to kids' cognitive functions

CarlsonS-Pref.jpgA new study by researchers at the University of Minnesota, University of Toronto, and McGill University in Montreal indicates that children in schools that use corporal punishment perform worse in tasks involving executive functioning than those in schools relying on milder forms of discipline. Associate Professor Stephanie Carlson, one of the study's authors, followed 63 children in kindergarten or first grade at two West African private schools.

In one school, discipline in the form of beating with a stick, slapping of the head, and pinching was administered publicly and routinely for offenses ranging from forgetting a pencil to being disruptive in class. In the other school, children were disciplined for similar offenses with the use of time-outs and verbal reprimands. While overall performance on executive-functioning tasks--planning, abstract thinking, delayed gratification--was similar in the younger children from both schools, the 1st grade children in the non-punitive school scored significantly higher that those in the punitive school.

Carlson, from the Institute of Child Development, believes the research suggests that a harshly punitive environment may have long-term detrimental effects on kids' verbal intelligence and their executive functioning ability. She also thinks the findings have widespread relevance for education in the United States.

"In the U.S., 19 states still allow corporal punishment in schools, although more of them are now asking for parent permission to use it," she said. "With this new evidence that the practice might actually undermine children's cognitive skills needed for self-control and learning, parents and policymakers can be better informed."

The study is published in the journal Social Development. For more information, see the University news release.

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