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Corporal Punishment Doesn't Work

I often hear people say the reason teens and college-aged kids are so obnoxious and bratty (as compared to previous generations) is because their parents didn't hit them enough when they were growing up. Now, those of you who read this blog regularly or who know me personally have heard me regularly express the wish for a stick with which to hit stupid people. Now, a) i know hitting people with sticks (or Hammers of Justice) would be wrong and illegal and b) you guys never let me do it. So why is it ok and acceptable to say kids should not only be abused, but abused more?

Ok, a smack on the bottom once in a while - not really "abuse" (and once the Bush Administration gets a hold of the word, hitting someone with a baseball bat repeatedly will also not be considered abuse). But it's still not ok for me to go and smack the person who sass-mouthed me at work, right? Oh, well, those are strangers. You can't do that to strangers. Fine. Is it ok for a someone to do it to their spouse for not washing the dishes? Would you go to work and talk about how you pinched your roommate the night before when they talked back to you? But if you did that to a 5 yr old, that's fine. Am i the only one who sees a problem here?

And what exactly are you teaching children by this practice? The simple answer is "bad behaviour will result in punishment". What if you're also teaching them that it's ok to hit someone when they do something you don't like? Or mom's a mean bitch? Or that they can't trust their parents?

Mebbe it cows children to be "respectful to" (read "afraid of") their parents. But what the hell kind of relationship is that? No wonder their kids are putting them in a nursing home the first chance they get.

The typical parent, when whacking a misbehaving child, doesn't pause to wonder: "What does science have to say about the efficacy of corporal punishment?" If they are thinking anything at all, it's: "Here comes justice!" And while the typical parent may not know or care, the science on corporal punishment of kids is pretty clear. Despite the rise of the timeout and other nonphysical forms of punishment, most American parents hit, pinch, shake, or otherwise lay violent hands on their youngsters: 63 percent of parents physically discipline their 1- to 2-year-olds, and 85 percent of adolescents have been physically punished by their parents. Parents cite children's aggression and failure to comply with a request as the most common reasons for hitting them.

The science also shows that corporal punishment is like smoking: It's a rare human being who can refrain from stepping up from a mild, relatively harmless dose to an excessive and harmful one. Three cigarettes a month won't hurt you much, and a little smack on the behind once a month won't harm your child. But who smokes three cigarettes a month? To call corporal punishment addictive would be imprecise, but there's a strong natural tendency to escalate the frequency and severity of punishment. More than one-third of all parents who start out with relatively mild punishments end up crossing the line drawn by the state to define child abuse: hitting with an object, harsh and cruel hitting, and so on. Children, endowed with wonderful flexibility and ability to learn, typically adapt to punishment faster than parents can escalate it, which helps encourage a little hitting to lead to a lot of hitting. And, like frequent smoking, frequent corporal punishment has serious, well-proven bad effects.

The negative effects on children include increased aggression and noncompliance--the very misbehaviors that most often inspire parents to hit in the first place--as well as poor academic achievement, poor quality of parent-child relationships, and increased risk of a mental-health problem (depression or anxiety, for instance). High levels of corporal punishment are also associated with problems that crop up later in life, including diminished ability to control one's impulses and poor physical-health outcomes (cancer, heart disease, chronic respiratory disease). Plus, there's the effect of increasing parents' aggression, and don't forget the consistent finding that physical punishment is a weak strategy for permanently changing behavior.

But parents keep on hitting. Why? The key is corporal punishment's temporary effectiveness in stopping a behavior. It does work--for a moment, anyway. The direct experience of that momentary pause in misbehavior has a powerful effect, conditioning the parent to hit again next time to achieve that jolt of fleeting success and blinding the parent to the long-term failure of hitting to improve behavior. The research consistently shows that the unwanted behavior will return at the same rate as before. But parents believe that corporal punishment works, and they are further encouraged in that belief by feeling that they have a right and even a duty to punish as harshly as necessary.


I know it can be frustrating when they don't listen to you, especially when you spent the last 8 hours at a stressful job and sat another hour in traffic to get home. But wouldn't it be better if they did what you told them out of love for you, out of respect, and because they've learned that mom and dad are always right instead of from fear of retribution (this clearly has no bearing on me hitting stupid people because, as we all know, stupid people are too dumb to learn so we might as well hit them with sticks and Hammers of Justice)?

I haven't got any kids so i'm clearly not talking from a place of experience. But i was a kid once and considering how resentful i still am about some of the things my parents have said to me, i think that if they topped it off with spankings or slaps or pinchings, i really really would have zero warm feelings of filial devotion to them. I don't think the short term relief is worth the possible long term effects.

By min | September 26, 2008, 11:10 AM | Science | Comments (2)| Link

I loved you all

Just wanted to say goodbye to everyone since today they are attempting to re-create the Big Bang in a lab in Switzerland.

If all goes according to plan, the Large Hadron Collider, a gigantic particle accelerator underground near Geneva, could re-create the very moment 13 billion years ago when scientists believe a tremendous explosion known as the "big bang" created the universe.

When a new universe* comes crashing through your reality, crushing you in an explosion of matter, i hope you will remember the good times we had together.

*References in the comments section to Marvel's failed "New Universe" line from the 1980s will only receive half credit.

By fnord12 | September 10, 2008, 11:17 AM | Science | Comments (15)| Link

Reticulating Dendritic Splines

Dendritic spines are the sites where your brain cells communicate with each other. Apparently, with chronic drug use, the density of dendritic spines increases. It had been previously speculated that the increase in dendritic spines supports behavioural changes associated with drug addiction. Scientists at UT Southwestern Medical Center have now discovered that the formation of dendritic spines in your brain during cocaine usage might actually help limit addiction-related responses. They call it "cocaine-induced brain plasticity". Ooooooh.

In a study appearing in the Aug. 28 issue of Neuron, researchers found that cocaine suppresses the activity of the protein MEF2 in mice. Because MEF2 normally reduces the number of brain connections, suppressing MEF2 leads to an increase in dendritic spine density. The researchers also found that when they enhanced MEF2 activity in the brain this blocked the drug-induced increase in dendritic spine density and increased addiction-related behavioral responses to cocaine.
When the researchers manipulated animals so that their MEF2 levels remained high in the presence of cocaine, the animals were more sensitive to the drug. This suggested that increased communication sites might help combat the addiction process.

The question is - what's the dedritic spine response to other drugs? And, more importantly, how is this related to the complete lack of effect Benadryl has on me when it puts everyone else to sleep? But then as soon as i stop using the Benadryl (after mebbe 1 1/2 days of usage) i get a massive headache? Are my dendrites reticulating so densely that my behavioural response to drugs is nil? At least it made the itching stop...

By min | September 8, 2008, 1:47 PM | My stupid life & Science | Comments (1)| Link

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