How spanking may affect brain development in children
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Spanking may affect a child's brain development in similar ways to more severe forms of violence, according to a new study led by Harvard researchers. The research, published recently in the journal Child Development, shows heightened activity in certain regions of the brains of children who experience abuse in response to threat cues.

Researchers analyzed data from a large study of children between the ages of three and 11. They focused on 147 children around ages 10 and 11 who had been spanked, excluding children who had also experienced more severe forms of violence.

Each child lay in an MRI machine and watched a computer screen on which were displayed different images of actors making "fearful" and "neutral" faces. A scanner captured the child's brain activity in response to each kind of face, and those images were analyzed to determine whether the faces sparked different patterns of brain activity in children who were spanked compared to those who were not.

"On average, across the entire sample, fearful faces elicited greater activation than neutral faces in many regions throughout the brain... and children who were spanked demonstrated greater activation in multiple regions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) to fearful relative to neutral faces than children who were never spanked," researchers wrote.

By contrast, "there were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked."

It's important to consider that corporal punishment does not impact every child the same way, and children can be resilient if exposed to potential adversities. But the important message is that corporal punishment is a risk that can increase potential problems for children's development, and following a precautionary principle, parents and policymakers should work toward trying to reduce its prevalence.

Child Development
Source: https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13565
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