Eavesdropping on the family: a pilot investigation of corporal punishment in the home

J Fam Psychol. 2014 Jun;28(3):401-6. doi: 10.1037/a0036370. Epub 2014 Apr 14.


This study tested the feasibility of using audio recorders to collect novel information about family interactions. Research into corporal punishment (CP) has relied, almost exclusively, on self-report data; audio recordings have the promise of revealing new insights into the use and immediate consequences of CP. So we could hear how parents respond to child conflicts, 33 mothers wore digital audio recorders for up to 6 evenings. We identified a total of 41 CP incidents, in 15 families and involving 22 parent-child dyads. These incidents were evaluated on 6 guidelines culled from the writings of CP advocates. The results indicated, contrary to advice, CP was not being used in line with 3 of the 6 recommendations and for 2 others, the results were equivocal. The last recommendation could not be assessed with audio. Latency analyses revealed children, after being hit, were misbehaving again within 10 minutes after 73% of the incidents. Mothers' self reports about whether they used CP were found to correspond to the audio data in 81% of the cases. Among the mothers who were hitting, CP occurred at a much higher rate than the literature indicates. These results should be viewed as preliminary because of the small sample of families and the even smaller number of families who used CP. Nevertheless, this pilot study demonstrates that audio recording naturally occurring momentary processes in the family is a viable method for collecting new data to address important questions about family interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child, Preschool
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Punishment / psychology*
  • Self Report
  • Tape Recording / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult