Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Exploring the Link between Corporal Punishment and Children's Cruelty to Animals

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Exploring the Link between Corporal Punishment and Children's Cruelty to Animals

Article excerpt

The link between interpersonal violence and violence to animals has been suggested, but rarely studied empirically, especially by family scholars. This study of 267 college undergraduates examined the relationship between corporal punishment inflicted by parents and the perpetration of animal abuse. The findings revealed that males who committed animal cruelty in childhood or adolescence were physically punished more frequently by their fathers, both as preteens and teenagers, than males who did not perpetrate animal abuse. This relationship did not hold for males spanked by mothers or for females spanked by either parent. Regression analyses showed that the association between fathers' corporal punishment and sons' childhood animal cruelty persisted after controlling for child abuse, father-to-mother violence, and father's education. The implications of the association of animal abuse and family violence and its gendered nature are discussed.

Key Words: animal abuse, animal cruelty, corporal punishment, family violence, spanking.

Although the link between the treatment of animals and the treatment of humans enjoys a long historical and philosophical tradition (DeViney, Dickert, & Lockwood, 1983; Lockwood & Ascione, 1998), surprisingly little attention has been given to the specific connection between violence to animals and various forms of family violence. In fact, only three published studies have examined this relationship directly-two focus on violence toward children (DeViney et al., 1983; Miller & Knutson, 1997), and one focuses on battered women (Ascione, 1998). Boat (1995) suggested that the virtual absence of empirical research on the association between violence toward children and violence toward animals may be an ignored link in the field of child abuse and neglect.

Children's cruelty to animals should receive serious attention from researchers, clinicians, and policymakers for several reasons. First, clinical studies of troubled youth and retrospective studies of physically and sexually aggressive criminals have revealed an association between childhood animal abuse and subsequent violence toward others, both in childhood and adulthood (Felthous & Kellert, 1986; Rigdon & Tapia, 1977; Tapia, 1977; Tingle, Barnard, Robbins, Newman, & Hutchinson, 1986). Second, cruel or abusive behavior toward animals by children may indicate serious developmental problems or potential psychopathology. Animal cruelty has been associated with a distortion or inhibition of empathy (Ascione, 1992, 1993), and beginning in 1987 the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd edition, revised) added physical cruelty to animals to the list of symptoms serving as criteria for the diagnosis of conduct disorder (Ascione, 1993). Third, childhood cruelty toward animals may identify not only children who may engage in future antisocial behavior, but also those who are living in violent, dysfunctional families (Arkow, 1996; Boat, 1995). Finally, the needless suffering and death of countless animals are major problems that deserve attention.

The limited empirical evidence linking violence to children and children's cruelty to animals has focused on severe or abusive violence inflicted on children. Yet a growing body of research has revealed potential negative outcomes from what many regard as ordinary or normal use of physical force-corporal punishment. The study presented here seeks to examine the relationship between receiving corporal punishment and perpetrating animal abuse as a child or adolescent. This research is significant in several ways. It explores the relationship between parent-to-child violence and animal abuse using a nonclinical sample. It focuses on corporal punishment, not child abuse, it looks at corporal punishment received prior to and during adolescence, and it examines the influence of the gender of both the punishing parent and the child. …

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