The Effect of Corporal Punishment on Antisocial Behavior in Children

By Grogan-Kaylor, Andrew | Social Work Research, September 2004 | Go to article overview

The Effect of Corporal Punishment on Antisocial Behavior in Children


Grogan-Kaylor, Andrew, Social Work Research


This study was conducted to examine the effect of corporal punishment on antisocial behavior of children using stronger statistical controls than earlier literature in this area; to examine whether the effect of corporal punishment on antisocial behavior is nonlinear; and to investigate whether the effects of corporal punishment on antisocial behavior differ across racial and ethnic groups. The author used a nonexperimental design and data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The analysis was conducted using fixed-effects methods to control for observed independent variables and unobserved time-invariant variables. Corporal punishment had a nontrivial effect on children's antisocial behavior in later years despite the strong controls introduced by the fixed-effects models. The analysis provides no evidence for differences in the effect of corporal punishment across racial and ethnic groups.

Key words: antisocial behavior; corporal punishment; fixed-effects model

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Researchers studying parenting and family life have long been interested in studying the ways in which parents discipline their children. A particular focus of empirical research has been parental use of corporal punishment. Although many U.S. parents believe in spanking their children when their children misbehave (Gershoff, 2002; Straus & Donnelly, 2001; Straus, Sugarman, & Giles-Sims, 1997), some research suggests that the use of corporal punishment may increase behavior problems among children (Eamon, 2001; Gershoff; Straus & Donnelly; Straus et al.).

In a seminal article, Straus and colleagues (1997) examined the effect of corporal punishment on a cohort of six- to nine-year-olds drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). Despite introducing several control variables into their model, these authors found that the use of corporal punishment predicted an increase in later antisocial behavior among children. In response to this contention that the use of corporal punishment is harmful, other authors have suggested that corporal punishment is either not always harmful (Gunnoe & Mariner, 1997) or is only harmful when it is excessive (Larzelere, 2000).

In this study recent data from the NLSY were used to re-examine the effect of corporal punishment on antisocial behavior. Analytic methods, with more rigorous statistical controls than those that have been used in earlier research in this area, were used. Fixed-effects regression methods were used with appropriate independent variables to develop a model with strong statistical controls for factors whose effects could be confounded with the effects of corporal punishment.

BACKGROUND AND SIGNIFICANCE

Theoretically, research on the relationship of corporal punishment and children's antisocial behavior may be seen as part of a broad agenda of developmental research that focuses on the relationship between children and their parents (Gershoff, 2002). Davies (1999) observed that the use of physical punishment has an effect on children's working model of their relationship with their parents, and that "when the child is exposed to harsh and inconsistent discipline in infancy and toddlerhood, she is likely to model her behavior after the parent's" (p. 57). A similar perspective was expressed by Vuchinich and colleagues (1992) who suggested that parents who use harsh discipline may "unintentionally promote antisocial behavior in their children through inept discipline practices and erratic expressions of anger toward the child" (p. 511). Strassberg and colleagues (1994) echoed these concerns.

A number of researchers have examined the relationship between corporal punishment and later antisocial behavior among children. Straus and Donnelly (2001) suggested that parents may use corporal punishment in an attempt to enforce compliance with desired behaviors among their children. However, the empirical work of Straus and his colleagues (Straus et al. …

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