With Spanking, Nature and Nurture Create More Aggression,
FRIDAY, March 16 (HealthDay News) -- Using spanking as a method
of discipline for kids who have a genetic predisposition to
aggressive behavior likely makes them even more aggressive,
especially boys, new research suggests.
"There's an intricate interplay between nature and nurture," said study co-author J.C. Barnes, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences. "Most people know that genes matter, but genes and environment can coalesce, and we see things above and beyond what's expected."
While the study found this effect was statistically pronounced
in males, Barnes said that the combination of aggressive genes and
being spanked as a child likely influences girls' behaviors, too.
He said it might be that the combination of these two factors
didn't reach statistical significance in girls because boys tend to
act out more, and so present more opportunities to have that
behavior seen in a study.
The findings were published recently in the journal
The use of spanking as a disciplinary tool has been linked to a
number of adverse outcomes in children and teens, such as
aggression and criminal behavior, according to background
information in the study.
Last month, researchers reported in the Canadian Medical
CMAJ, that children who had been physically punished had higher levels of aggression against their parents, siblings, peers and spouses.
And, it may be that children who are genetically predisposed to
aggression are the ones most likely to be spanked for their
behavior, but the current study by Barnes and his colleagues
suggests that spanking in response will just increase that type of
Data for the current study came from a nationally representative
sample of children born in 2001. The entire group involved almost
To assess genetic predisposition, the researchers looked at a
group of about 1,500 twins. They compared the behavior of identical
twins to fraternal twins. Since identical twins share 100 percent
of their genetic makeup, the researchers said that behaviors under
genetic influence would be more common in identical twins than in
fraternal twins. Fraternal twins share about 50 percent of their
The researchers then looked at the effect of genetic
predisposition and the use of corporal punishment and how those
factors influence a child's behavior both separately and
They found that for both boys and girls having a genetic risk
for aggressive behavior increased the risk of antisocial behavior
in children. The use of corporal punishment also increased the risk
of antisocial behavior in both sexes, according to Barnes.
But, when the two factors were combined -- genetic risk and
corporal punishment -- only boys seemed to have an even greater
likelihood of antisocial behavior, according to the study.
"I'm not surprised to see that they're concluding that there's evidence proving that genetic factors are involved in the development of aggressive behaviors. There's a complex interaction between genetics and environment," said Dr. Roya Samuels, an attending physician in the department of general pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York.
"Many studies have shown detrimental long-term effects from the use of corporal punishment in children. But, it still occurs with great frequency in this country," she said.
As children get older, it becomes especially difficult for
parents who've relied on corporal punishment to discipline
effectively, she noted.
Instead of physical punishment, Samuels suggests developing a
supportive, nurturing relationship with your child. She said
parents should reinforce positive behaviors, and give structure and
a daily routine in a child's life. Parents should set consequences
for negative behavior, she said, and in the toddler years, timeouts
can be an effective form of discipline instead of spanking.
Get advice of disciplining children from the Nemours
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