FRIDAY, Sept. 25, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- The bad news is that youngsters who are spanked might lose IQ points.
The good news is that it appears that children's IQs are on the rise -- and at least one expert believes that part of the reason why is that corporal punishment is falling out of favor in the United States and elsewhere.
That's the view of discipline and domestic violence expert Murray Straus, a professor of sociology and co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire. Straus was scheduled to present the findings from recent research on spanking on Friday at the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma in San Diego.
The results of a survey of more than 17,000 university students from 32 countries "show that the higher the percent of parents who used corporal punishment, the lower the national average IQ," Straus wrote in his presentation.
In looking at spanking just in the United States, Straus and a fellow researcher reviewed data on IQ scores from 806 children between 2 and 4 years old and another 704 kids aged 5 to 9.
When their IQs were tested again four years later, children in the younger group who were not spanked scored five points higher, on average, than did children who had been spanked. In the group of older children, spanking resulted in an average loss of 2.8 points.
"How often parents spanked made a difference," Straus said in a news release from the university. "The more spanking, the slower the development of the child's mental ability. But even small amounts of spanking made a difference."
Dr. Rahil Briggs, a child psychologist with the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York City, said she believes that "discipline should be an opportunity to teach your child something."
"If you spank, you teach your child that hitting is the way to deal with a situation," she said. "But if you use other methods of discipline, you can begin teaching your child higher-level cognitive skills, self-control, cause-and-effect and logical thinking."
Briggs said that previous research has clearly shown that when children are in negative stressful situations, it can actually change the architecture of their brains and impair certain neural processes.
Dr. Stephen Ajl, a child abuse pediatrician, director of pediatric ambulatory care at the Brooklyn Hospital Center and medical director of the Jane Barker Brooklyn Children's Advocacy Center in New York City, said that "spanking and other forms of corporal punishment mean that someone has lost control, and if that goes on on a chronic basis, it may affect some part of children's psychological well-being."
And though some people believe that they can use spanking as a form of punishment without losing control, Briggs said that's very difficult to do all the time.
"When you're physical with your child, you open that floodgate, and the likelihood that it could veer into where you don't have as much control increases," Briggs said. "Plus, if you're just spanking, you haven't taught your child anything."
Straus's presentation at the violence conference was also to include findings from the study of university students, done by researchers in 32 countries. It found that in nations with decreasing use of corporal punishment, the countries' average IQ scores rose.
Those findings are plausible and make some sense, Briggs said, but she added that it's difficult to tease out all the other factors that could play a role in IQ scores -- including poverty and parental education.
Ajl recommended that parents think about how they want to discipline their children before they're faced with a situation. And, he said, a pediatrician can help parents come up with more effective ways to discipline their children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has tips on effective discipline.