Summary: Corporal punishment increases the risk of anxiety and depression in adolescents, researchers report. In addition, physical punishment alters brain activity and affects brain development.

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Beat your children. Conventional wisdom has emerged from decades of research linking corporal punishment to decreased adolescent health and negative effects on behavior, including increased risk of anxiety and depression.

Now, new research explores how physical punishment affects neural systems to produce those negative effects.

Corporal punishment can be defined as “the intentional infliction of physical pain by any means for the purpose of punishment, correction, discipline, instruction, or other purpose.” This abuse, especially when perpetrated by a parent, creates a complex emotional experience.

The researchers, working with Kreshnik Burani, MS and Greg Hajcak, PhD at Florida State University, sought to understand the neural transmission of that experience and its downstream consequences.

The study appears in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

The researchers conducted a longitudinal study of 149 boys and girls aged 11 to 14 from the Tallahassee, FL, area. Participants performed a video game-like task and a money guessing game while undergoing continuously recorded electroencephalography, or EEG – a non-invasive technique for measuring brain wave activity from the scalp.

From the EEG data, the researchers determined two points for each participant: one that reflects their neural response to error and the other that reflects their neural response to reward.

After two years, participants and their parents completed a series of questionnaires to screen for anxiety and depression and to assess parenting style. As expected, children who experienced corporal punishment were more likely to experience anxiety and depression.

“Our paper first replicates the well-known negative impact of corporal punishment on child well-being: we found that corporal punishment is associated with symptoms of anxiety and depression in adolescence. However, our study shows that more physical punishment can affect brain activity and neural development, Burani said.

That’s because of the greater neural response to wrongdoing and the response to reward that comes with corporal punishment in adolescents.

This is a sad little boy.
That’s because of the greater neural response to wrongdoing and the response to reward that comes with corporal punishment in adolescents. The image is in the public domain.

“Specifically,” Burani added, “our paper shows that corporal punishment increases neural sensitivity to dealing with mistakes and decreases neural sensitivity to receiving rewards in adolescence.”

In previous and ongoing work with Dr. Hajak, increased neural responsiveness to error is associated with anxiety and risk for depression, while decreased neural responsiveness to reward is associated with depression and risk for depression.

Thus, corporal punishment may alter specific neurodevelopmental pathways that increase vulnerability to anxiety and depression by making children hypersensitive to their own mistakes and less responsive to rewards and other positive events in their environment.

Cameron Carter, MD, editor Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and NeuroimagingSpeaking about the findings, “This study using EEG provides new insights into the negative effects of corporal punishment on children’s mental health and the mechanisms by which it can cause damage to the nervous system.”

The work provides new insights into the neural underpinnings of depression and anxiety and may help guide interventions for at-risk youth.

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This shows the brain

So neurodevelopmental research news

Author: Press office
Source: other
Contact: Press Office – Elsevier
Image: The image is in the public domain.

Preliminary study: Closed access.
Corporal punishment is uniquely associated with greater neural responses to errors and greater neural responses to rewards in adolescence.In Kreshnik Burani et al. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging


Draft

Corporal punishment is uniquely associated with greater neural responses to errors and greater neural responses to rewards in adolescence.

Background

Although physical punishment is a common form of punishment known to have negative effects on health and behavior, how such punishment affects neurocognitive systems is relatively unknown.

method

To address this issue, we examined how physical punishment affects neural circuitry and reward processing in 149 adolescent boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 14.MAge = 11.02, SDAge = 1.16). Lifetime corporal punishment was assessed using the Stress and Risk Inventory (STRAIN). In addition, participants completed a flanker task and a reward task to measure error-related negativity (ERN) and reward positivity (RewP), respectively, as well as anxiety and depression symptoms.

Results

As hypothesized, participants with lifetime corporal punishment reported more anxiety and depressive symptoms. Physical punishment is associated with larger IRNA and blunted RewP. Importantly, physical punishment was associated with greater ERN and blunted RewP beyond the effects of severe parenting and lifetime stressors.

Summary

Corporal punishment appears to enhance the neural response to mistakes and decrease the neural response to reward, increasing vulnerability to anxiety and depression symptoms.

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