Corporal Punishment of Children (Spanking)
Recent articles on corporal punishment and parental discipline by Dr. Larzelere can be accessed through the links provided below.
- Research for and against spanking bans: http://www.law.duke.edu/journals/lcp/lcptoc73spring2010
- Comparison of effects of †spanking, nonphysical punishments, psychotherapy, and Ritalin using the same methods on the same samples:
- USA data: www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2431/10/10
- Canadian data: http://jbd.sagepub.com/content/34/2/180.abstract
- Long-term effectiveness of authoritative parenting from Dr. Diana Baumrindís famous data: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15295190903290790
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
Robert Lazelere, Ph.D.
- Larzelere presents annotated
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
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
- 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
- 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
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.
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
- "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).
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.
Love and Limits in Authoritative Parenting: A Conditional
Sequence Model of Disciplinary
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
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
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
- "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.
- 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)
from Sweden - Assaults on
Children based on
police-record data of physical assaults of children under 7
years of age (Wittrock, 1992, 1995).
Diana Baumrind (Institute for Human Development at the University
thoughts on corporal punishment from a leading developmental
psychologist. This correspondence was written to Bob Larzelere
which he posted on the listserv called FAMLYSCI.
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."
John and W. Bradford Wilcox. "Conservative Protestant Child
Discipline: The Case of Parental
NJ - A new study casts doubts on previous assertions that
conservative Protestant parents are abusive and
Larzelere has published a number of research studies and
literature reviews which examine the effects of nonabusive
spanking on young children.
& 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
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.
- Critique A critique and evaluation by Larzelere. Also see Larzelere/Straus Debate for some interesting results of a reanalysis of the Straus data.