For a number of us at this conference who have concluded on the basis of the substantial literature1-17 and their own empirical data18,19 that punishment is a serious risk for poor child and adult outcome, the relative sparsity of studies that provide unambiguous evidence of negative effects of spanking specifically, and corporal punishment as compared with noncorporal punishment,20 comes as a shock. (By unambiguous evidence we require longitudinal investigation with appropriate controls for potential confounding variables, particularly the child's behavioral elicitation of the punishment). Dr McCord has provided a series of theoretically coherent reasons why we would expect such negative outcomes. I would like to focus on some of the reasons why research is still needed on this topic.
It is hard, possibly even impossible, to study spanking or corporal punishment without contamination from the other variables with which it is moderately to strongly correlated, particularly the tendency to use punishment more frequently, and to use a greater variety of punishment methods. Current advocates of spanking propose considerable restrictions as to the age of the child and the circumstances, methods, and frequency of use that can be endorsed. Is it likely ever to be possible to determine whether punishment has positive or negative effects when used within these restrictions? It is useful to consider this question within current paradigms for determining the effects of any treatment on a particular problem.
When determining the efficacy of a given medical, surgical, or other treatment on a disease or other problem, the preferred model is the randomized trial.
- Copyright © 1996 by the American Academy of Pediatrics