Are Spanking Injunctions Scientifically Supported?

31 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2020

See all articles by Robert Larzelere

Robert Larzelere

Oklahoma State University

Diana Baumrind

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: February 18, 2010


This article summarizes the scientific evidence against spanking bans from the conditional spanking perspective, to contrast with other articles in this special issue of Law and Contemporary Problems that use scientific evidence to support a spanking prohibition perspective. We clarify the questions to be answered to decide between those two perspectives. With those questions in mind, the article contrasts the findings of two major literature reviews on child outcomes of physical punishment, summarizes the few causally conclusive studies of the most appropriate use of spanking, and then summarizes and critiques the strongest causally relevant evidence for and against spanking. The fact that persistently defiant children cause parents to use all disciplinary responses more frequently explains why alternative disciplinary responses are associated with adverse outcomes as strongly as appropriate spanking in studies making direct comparisons. We also consider the relationship between spanking and physical abuse, including the possible role of appropriate spanking in preventing further escalations of parental frustration that could otherwise increase the risk of verbal or physical abuse. Like all disciplinary tactics, the effectiveness of spanking depends on how and when it is used, as well as the parenting context in which it is used. Before prohibiting all spanking, research needs to document alternative disciplinary responses that are more effective in the disciplinary situations where appropriate spanking has been considered an acceptable option traditionally.

Keywords: physical punishment, spanking, causal evidence, child abuse

Suggested Citation

Larzelere, Robert and Baumrind, Diana, Are Spanking Injunctions Scientifically Supported? (February 18, 2010). Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 73, No. 2, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Robert Larzelere (Contact Author)

Oklahoma State University ( email )

Dept. Of Human Devel. & Family Science
233 Human Sciences Bldg.
Stillwater, OK Oklahoma 74078-0001
United States
4057449938 (Phone)
74078-0001 (Fax)

Diana Baumrind

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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