Corporal Punishment Affects Brain Activity, Anxiety, and Depression

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

Source: Elsevier

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

Now, a new study examines how corporal punishment may influence neural systems to produce those adverse 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, evokes a complex emotional experience.

The researchers, led by Kreshnik Burani, M.S., and in collaboration with Greg Hajcak, Ph.D., at Florida State University, wanted to understand the neural underpinnings 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 ages 11 to 14 from the Tallahassee, FL area. Participants performed a video game-like task and a monetary guessing game while undergoing continuously recorded electroencephalography, or EEG — a non-invasive technique to measure brain wave activity from the scalp.

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

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

“Our paper first replicates the known negative effect that corporal punishment has on a child’s well-being: we found that corporal punishment is associated with increased anxiety and depressive symptoms in adolescence. However, our study goes further by showing that corporal punishment can affect brain activity and neurological development,” said Burani.

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

That was reflected by a greater neural response to error and a blunted response to reward in the adolescents who received physical punishment. The image is in the public domain

“Specifically,” added Burani, “our paper links corporal punishment to increased neural sensitivity to making mistakes and decreased neural sensitivity to receiving rewards in adolescence.

In previous and ongoing work with Dr. Hajcak, we find that an increased neural response to errors is associated with anxiety and the risk of anxiety, while a decreased neural response to rewards is associated with depression and the risk of depression.

Corporal punishment may therefore alter specific neurodevelopmental pathways that increase the risk of anxiety and depression by making children hypersensitive to their own mistakes and less reactive to rewards and other positive events in their environment.”

Cameron Carter, MD, editor of 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 underpinnings of depression and anxiety and may help guide interventions for at-risk youth.

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About this neurological research news

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

Original research: Closed access.
“Corporal punishment is uniquely associated with greater neural response to error and blunted neural response to reward in adolescence” by Kreshnik Burani et al. Biological psychiatry: cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging


Abstract

Corporal punishment is uniquely associated with greater neural response to error and blunted neural response to reward in adolescence

Background

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

Method

To address this issue, we examined how corporal punishment affects the neural measures of error and reward processing in 149 adolescent boys and girls aged 11 to 14 years (mage = 11.02, SDage = 1.16). Corporal punishment experienced throughout life was assessed using the Stress and Adversity Inventory (STRAIN). In addition, participants completed a flankers 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.

Results

As hypothesized, participants who had experienced lifelong corporal punishment reported more anxiety and depressive symptoms. Experiencing corporal punishment was also associated with increased ERN and blunted RewP. Importantly, corporal punishment was independently associated with greater ERN and more blunted RewP, aside from the impact of harsh parenting and lifelong stressors.

Conclusion

Corporal punishment appears to enhance the neural response to error and decrease the neural response to rewards, which could increase the risk of anxiety and depressive symptoms.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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