The strength of the causal evidence against physical punishment of children and its implications for parents, psychologists, and policymakers

Am Psychol. 2018 Jul-Aug;73(5):626-638. doi: 10.1037/amp0000327.


The question of whether physical punishment is helpful or harmful to the development of children has been subject to hundreds of research studies over the past several decades. Yet whether causal conclusions can be drawn from this largely nonexperimental research and whether the conclusions generalize across contexts are issues that remain unresolved. In this article, the authors summarize the extent to which the empirical research on physical punishment meets accepted criteria for causal inference. They then review research demonstrating that physical punishment is linked with the same harms to children as is physical abuse and summarize the extant research that finds links between physical punishment and detrimental outcomes for children are consistent across cultural, family, and neighborhood contexts. The strength and consistency of the links between physical punishment and detrimental child outcomes lead the authors to recommend that parents should avoid physical punishment, psychologists should advise and advocate against it, and policymakers should develop means of educating the public about the harms of and alternatives to physical punishment. (PsycINFO Database Record

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Parents / psychology
  • Physical Abuse / psychology*
  • Punishment / psychology*