Oklahoma State University

Corporal Punishment of Children (Spanking)

Recent articles on corporal punishment and parental discipline by Dr. Larzelere can be accessed through the links provided below.

Click here for a more complete listing of Dr. Larzelereís publications.

Thanks to Dr. Paul Poelstra, who maintained this web page until his retirement in 2008. We plan to update it in the near future. Click here for more recent publications.

This page provides links and references to research on corporal punishment of children in the home and critiques of the anti-spanking research. Some of these critiques can be used in statistics and research design courses to illustrate methodological flaws that can occur in psychological research. These studies also illustrate the importance of going to the original sources and not relying on the media or other secondary sources when studying an area of research. Advocacy groups often over generalize research data ("research proves. . .") and/or ignore research studies which could provide a more balanced perspective on the issues. - Paul Poelstra, Ph.D.

  • Dr. Larzelere is concerned about the trend to adopt increasingly extreme anti-spanking bans throughout the world, bans that have no sound scientific basis. A press release opposing New Zealand's anti-spanking legislative bill, based on Larzelere's scientific evidence.

  • Contact Information for Robert Lazelere, Ph.D.

  • Larzelere presents annotated studies documenting the relevant scientific evidence demonstrating that there is no sound scientific evidence to support anti-spanking bans. This lack of evidence is a crucial issue when expanding prohibited types of corporal punishment from physical abuse to even the mildest forms of spanking or slapping a preschooler's hand.

  • A submission to the UN Study on Violence Against Children, written by Larzelere on behalf of the American College of Pediatricians. This piece emphasizes the need to balance advocacy with science. Otherwise years will be wasted in advocacy-based programs that are well-intentioned, but that thwart objective scientific evidence on the effectiveness of those programs

  • Larzelere responds to Dr. Durrant's criticisms of his booklet comparing their respective published evaluations of Sweden's 1979 spanking ban. Dr. Durrant's data sources indicate an increase in physical child abuse and of criminal assaults by juvenile delinquents since the spanking ban. Although these increases cannot be proven to have been caused by the spanking ban, the increases cannot be easily explained away, either.

  • Larzelere and Kuhn's summary of their latest meta-analysis and its importance. It is the first scientific review that compares child outcomes of physical punishment vs. alternative tactics that parents could use instead. The authors demonstrate that the following alternative disciplinary measures had significantly worse outcomes than conditional spanking for either noncompliance (N) or antisocial aggression (A) or both: Reasoning (N & A), Threats or verbal power assertion (N), Privilege removal (N), Time out or isolation (A), Ignoring (N), Love withdrawal (A), Restraint or physical power assertion (N), Child-determined end to time out (N), Scolding (A), and Diverting (A).

    For a pdf copy of Larzelere and Kuhn's article Comparing child outcomes of physical punishment and alternative discipline tactics: A meta-analysis send your request via email to Robert.Larzelere@okstate.edu along with a brief rationale for wanting a copy.

  • In a recent article about the intervention selection bias, Larzelere shows that the research methods generally used to find detrimental child outcomes from nonabusive spanking would also find equally detrimental outcomes from recommended disciplinary techniques.

  • Larzelere presented a paper at a conference on The Future of Longitudinal Studies sponsored by The Institute of Human Development, University of California, Berkeley. In this summary he explains the three requirements for making a valid causal inference. He demonstrates how selection bias provides a plausible explanation for the association between mental health treatments and increased risk of suicide in young people. The selection bias can also be shown to apply to power assertive disciplinary settings.

    At the same conference Diana Baumrind presented a
    paper on When are Causal Inferences Justified in the Debate about Physical Discipline "Effects"?

  • Recently, Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff, PhD, published a review in the Psychological Bulletin (2002) which has received extensive media attention. In a critique of her article, Larzelere highlights two important issues that can be applied to a wide range of psychological research: 1) the limitations of correlational research in terms of making causal statements and 2) the importance of operational definitions. Also see Baumrind, Cowan & Larzelere Ordinary Physical Punishment: Is It Harmful? Comment on Gershoff (2002), Psychological Bulletin, 128, 580-589.

  • A Comparison of Two Recent Reviews of Scientific Studies of Physical Punishment by Parents by Larzelere, June 2002. In a more comprehensive review of Gershoff's article, Larzelere shows that "child outcomes associated with ordinary physical punishment are also associated with alternative disciplinary tactics when similar research methods are used. Detrimental child outcomes are associated with the frequency of any disciplinary tactic, not just physical punishment. Therefore, it is the excessive misbehavior that is the actual cause of detrimental outcomes in children."

  • "Not one of the 17 causally relevant studies found predominantly detrimental outcomes if they did anything to rule out parents who used physical punishment too severely." p. 209 This is Larzelere's conclusion in a recent review of outcomes associated with nonabusive physical punishment in Child Outcomes of Nonabusive and Customary Physical Punishment by Parents: An Updated Literature Review in Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review 2000, 3(4):199-221 (the December 2000 issue).

  • Larzelere/Straus Debate (June, 1999) A summary of Dr. Larzelere's presentation in a debate with Straus about spanking. In this summary, Larzelere reports that the small detrimental child outcomes reported by Straus, Sugarman & Giles-Sims (1997) for 6- to 9-year-olds is not unique to spanking. A further analysis of the Straus, et al. data revealed that identical small detrimental child outcomes were also found for all four alternative disciplinary responses for 6- to 9-year-olds (grounding, sending the child to a room, removing privileges, and taking away an allowance). The debate was held at a conference of the National Foundation for Family Research and Education at Banff in Alberta, Canada.

  • Combining Love and Limits in Authoritative Parenting: A Conditional Sequence Model of Disciplinary Responses   Dr. Larzelere presented this paper at a University of Wisconsin conference on Parenthood in America (April 19-21, 1998). He outlines "a conditional sequence model of optimal disciplinary responses and shows its consistency with a wide range of research. The model suggests that optimal disciplinary responses begin with less severe tactics, such as reasoning, but proceed to firmer disciplinary tactics when the initial tactic achieves neither compliance nor an acceptable compromise." This paper provides an excellent overview of Larzelere's "both-and" model of parental discipline.

  • Dr. Diana Baumrind: "Methodologically strong studies have not established that normative physical punishment is a causal risk factor for the detrimental child outcomes with which it may be associated. . . a blanket injunction against disciplinary spanking is not warranted by causally relevant scientific evidence." This quote is from Baumrind's (University of California, Berkeley) invited address at the 109th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association meeting, August 24, 2001. She spoke on "Does Causally Relevant Research Support A Blanket Injunction Against Disciplinary Spanking by Parents?"

    Baumrind's APA paper is available on her website at
    http://ihd.berkeley.edu Click on News and Events. You will find her paper under IHD News Archives. There her presentation is described and the viewer can download her paper and her tables. Her paper is outstanding. A brief summary of her research is found in this press release.

  • Larzelere, Straus, and Rosemond debate about whether corporal punishment should be considered abuse, in Debating Children's Lives pdf (1994)

  • Sweden - "Where is Evidence That Non-Abusive Corporal Punishment Increases Aggression?" This paper reviews the evidence on whether the 1979 Swedish law against all corporal punishment has been associated with a reduction in child abuse.

  • Sweden - Assaults on Children in Sweden Dr. Larzelere compares his conclusions and the evidence for them with those of Durrant (1999) regarding the success of Sweden's ban on spanking. A more recent critique appears in the Autumn 2001 issue of Families First (page 12) pdf.

  • Statistics from Sweden - Assaults on Children based on police-record data of physical assaults of children under 7 years of age (Wittrock, 1992, 1995).

  • Dr. Diana Baumrind (Institute for Human Development at the University of California-Berkeley) thoughts on corporal punishment from a leading developmental psychologist. This correspondence was written to Bob Larzelere which he posted on the listserv called FAMLYSCI.

  • Spare the Rod? Den A. Trumbull, M.D. and S. DuBose Ravenel, M.D. (both practicing board-certified pediatricians) respond to various objections to the use of corporal punishment and offer guidelines for disciplinary spanking. As they point out, many articles in this area are "merely opinion-driven editorials, reviews or commentaries, devoid of new empirical findings."

  • Bartkowski, John and W. Bradford Wilcox. "Conservative Protestant Child Discipline: The Case of Parental Yelling.". Princeton, NJ - A new study casts doubts on previous assertions that conservative Protestant parents are abusive and authoritarian.

  • Larzelere Bibliography Dr. Larzelere has published a number of research studies and literature reviews which examine the effects of nonabusive spanking on young children.

  • Gunnoe & Mariner (1997) Toward a Developmental-Contextual Model of the Effects of Parental Spanking on Children's Aggression. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1997;151:768-775 A well designed study that critically examines the claim that spanking teaches children that physical aggression can be used appropriately in conflict situations

  • Corporal Punishment by David Benatar (1998). A philosopher analyzes the anti-spanking arguments that corporal punishment is degrading, that it is psychologically damaging, that it teaches the child that violence is an appropriate way to settle disagreements, etc. He demonstrates that these arguments fail for lack of evidence and/or are logically unsound. Social Theory & Practice, Summer 1998, Vol. 24 Issue 2, p.237

  • "When to Spank" USNEWS & World Report. An excellent and fairly comprehensive review of corporal punishment and related research issues appears in the April 13, 1998 issue of USNEWS. References are made to Larzelere's research as well as Straus' studies.

  • Straus, M. A., Sugarman, D. B., & Giles-Sims, J. (1997). Spanking by parents and subsequent antisocial behavior of children. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 151, 761-767. This correlational study was widely and sometimes uncritically reported in the media in the summer of '97. Despite serious methodological weaknesses and some concerns regarding the statistical analyses, this study is frequently cited to support the anti-spanking position.

    Critiques of the Straus' et al. study

    • Critique A critique and evaluation by Larzelere. Also see Larzelere/Straus Debate for some interesting results of a reanalysis of the Straus data.

    • Corporal Punishment and Antisocial Behavior By B. K. Ambati, J. Ambati, and A.M Rao. The authors provide a cogent critique of the methodology and statistics used in the Straus study.Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1998;152:303

    • Two Emerging Perspectives of Parental Spanking From Two 1996 Conferences By Bob Larzelere, Diana Baumrind and Ken Polite. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1998;152:303-305

    • One of the better reviews in the popular media of the Straus et al. study appears in the April 14, 1997 issue of TIME Spare the Rod? Maybe Some of Dr. Trumbull's concerns about their study are highlighted in the article.