Unforeseen Holes in the ‘Anti-Spanking’ Studies

Yes, spanking is a bad form of child manipulation… oh wait, all child manipulation is bad. You can thank the Journal of Family Psychology for this useless study. Thanks to the power of a .edu email, I was able to access the study in full. Please allow me to draw your attention to exhibit A:

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 8.46.11 PM

So what you’re looking at here is correlation, not causation. Now, let me lay out some of the other flaws here not mentioned by the authors. For one, there’s no indication of proportionality. What were these kids being spanked for? Swearing? Looking ugly? Sure, you won’t spank a kid for just acting like a kid, but what if he (or she) is choking another kid? And you’ve already told them no?

Second, not only is there a limitation in “selection bias in who gets spanked,” but also a selection bias in who is getting studied. Who do psychologists get access to? Have you or your parents ever been asked to be a part of a spanking study? Were you ever spanked under the watch of a clinical researcher? The power of reasoning and my reasonably strong rum drink tell me that the subjects of these studies are people who are seeking help from psychologists. But I could be wrong.

Third: at some point, every person needs to be confronted with their own humanity. One of the biggest lessons I have learned from getting my ass kicked in jiu jitsu (and also having been spanked as a child) is that there is a power differential between myself and those around me. It hasn’t really changed my behavior–which is the sole focus of these studies–but being confronted with this power differential both as a child and an adult actually fills me with respect for those around me. Respect for EVERYONE around me, not just those doling out the corporal aggression.

We evolved to thrive in hostile environments. We exist in an overtly safe environment. Maybe a little controlled hostility when our own misbehavior–or complacency– threatens us is a good thing.

No wait, it definitely is.

Gershoff, Elizabeth T., Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, and Fiese, Barbara H. “Spanking and Child Outcomes: Old Controversies and New Meta-Analyses.” Journal of Family Psychology 30, no. 4 (2016): 453-69.


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