Objectives: Physical punishment, as a means of disciplining children, may be considered a mild form of childhood adversity. Although many outcomes of physical punishment have been investigated, little attention has been given to the impact of physical punishment on later adult psychopathology. Also, it has been stated that physical punishment by a loving parent is not associated with negative outcomes; however, this theory has not been empirically tested with regard to psychiatric disorders. The main objective of the present study was to investigate three categories of increasing severity of childhood adversity (no physical punishment or abuse, physical punishment only, and child abuse) to examine whether the childhood experience of physical punishment alone was associated with adult psychopathology, after adjusting for sociodemographic variables and parental bonding dimensions.
Methods: Data were drawn from the nationally representative National Comorbidity Survey (NCS, n=5,877; age 15-54 years; response rate 82.4%). Binary logistic and multinomial logistic regression models were used to determine the odds of experiencing psychiatric disorders.
Results: Physical punishment was associated with increased odds of major depression (AOR=1.22; 95% CI=1.01-1.48), alcohol abuse/dependence (AOR=1.32; 95% CI=1.08-1.61), and externalizing problems (AOR=1.30; 95% CI=1.05-1.60) in adulthood after adjusting for sociodemographic variables and parental bonding dimensions. Individuals experiencing physical punishment only were at increased odds of adult psychopathology compared to those experiencing no physical punishment/abuse and at decreased odds when compared to those who were abused.
Conclusions: Physical punishment is a mild form of childhood adversity that shows an association with adult psychopathology.