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Corporal punishment affects brain activity, anxiety and depression

Corporal punishment affects brain activity, anxiety and depression

Corporal punishment affects brain activity, anxiety and depression

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

Source: Elsevier

Don’t hit your children. That’s the conventional wisdom that has emerged from decades of research linking corporal punishment to declining adolescent health and negative behavioral effects, including increased risk of anxiety and depression.

Now, a new study investigates how corporal punishment can influence neural systems to produce these negative effects.

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

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

The study appears in Biological psychiatry: cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging.

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

Based on the EEG data, the researchers determined two scores for each participant – one reflecting their neural response to an error and one reflecting their neural response to a reward.

Two years later, the participants and their parents completed a series of questionnaires to detect anxiety and depression and to assess parenting style. As expected, children who experienced corporal punishment were more likely to develop anxiety and depression.

“Our work first replicates the well-known negative effect that corporal punishment has on child well-being: we found that corporal punishment is associated with increased anxiety and depressive symptoms in adolescence. However, our study goes further to show that corporal punishment can affect brain activity and neurodevelopment,” said Burani.

This was reflected in a greater neural response to error and blunted response to reward in adolescents who received physical punishment.

This was reflected in a greater neural response to error and blunted response to reward in adolescents who received physical punishment. Image is in the public domain

“Specifically,” added Burani, “our work links corporal punishment with increased neural sensitivity to errors and decreased neural sensitivity to receiving rewards in adolescence.

In previous and current work with dr. By Hajčak, we see that increased neural response to errors is associated with anxiety and risk of anxiety, while decreased neural response to rewards is associated with depression and risk of depression.

Corporal punishment, therefore, may alter specific neurodevelopmental pathways that increase the risk of 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 neuroimagingsaid of the findings: “Using EEG, this study provides new insights into the mechanisms that may underlie the adverse effects of corporal punishment on children’s mental health, as well as the neural systems that may be affected.”

The work provides new clues about the neural basis of depression and anxiety and may help guide interventions for at-risk youth.

See also

Corporal punishment affects brain activity, anxiety and depression

About this neurodevelopmental news research

Author: Press Office
Source: Elsevier
Contact: Press Office – Elsevier
picture: Image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
Corporal punishment is uniquely associated with greater neural response to errors and blunted neural response to rewards in adolescenceKreshnik Burani et al. Biological psychiatry: cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging


Abstract

Corporal punishment is uniquely associated with greater neural response to errors and blunted neural response to rewards in adolescence

Background

Although corporal punishment is a common form of punishment with known negative effects on health and behavior, it is relatively unknown how such punishment affects neurocognitive systems.

Method

To address this issue, we examined how corporal punishment affects neural measures of error and reward processing in 149 adolescent boys and girls aged 11 to 14 years (Mage = 11.02, SDAge = 1.16). Lifetime corporal punishment was assessed using the Stress and Adversity 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 measures of anxiety and depressive symptoms.

The results

As hypothesized, participants who had experienced lifetime corporal punishment reported more symptoms of anxiety and depression. Experiencing corporal punishment was also associated with a larger ERN and blunted RewP. Importantly, corporal punishment was independently associated with a larger ERN and blunted RewP beyond the effects of harsh parenting and life stressors.

Conclusion

Corporal punishment appears to increase the neural response to errors and decrease the neural response to rewards, which may increase the risk of anxiety and depressive symptoms.



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