James Dobson and his Focus on the Family empire rose to fame on a philosophy of authoritarian parenting that consisted of generous doses of spanking to ensure agreement, conformity, and obedience.
That philosophy was often criticized for its frequent outcome: Aggressive behavior, youth-on-youth violence, anxiety disorders, and externalization or projection of one’s problems. Christian Rightists countered that the benefits of harsh discipline outweighed these costs.
However, two new studies by Prof. Murray Straus at the University of New Hampshire find that children who are spanked suffer reduced intellectual capacity. The research was presented Friday at the 14th International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma, in San Diego, Calif.
CBS News summarized the findings:
According to Science Daily:
Straus found that children in the United States who were spanked had lower IQs four years later than those who were not spanked.
Straus and Mallie Paschall, senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, studied nationally representative samples of 806 children ages 2 to 4, and 704 ages 5 to 9. Both groups were retested four years later.
IQs of children ages 2 to 4 who were not spanked were 5 points higher four years later than the IQs of those who were spanked. The IQs of children ages 5 to 9 years old who were not spanked were 2.8 points higher four years later than the IQs of children the same age who were spanked.
The studies also examined the effects of spanking around the world:
Straus and colleagues in 32 nations used data on corporal punishment experienced by 17,404 university students when they were children.
According to Straus, there are two explanations for the relation of corporal punishment to lower IQ.
First, corporal punishment is extremely stressful and can become a chronic stressor for young children, who typically experience corporal punishment three or more times a week. For many it continues for years. The research found that the stress of corporal punishment shows up as an increase in post-traumatic stress symptoms such as being fearful that terrible things are about to happen and being easily startled. These symptoms are associated with lower IQ.
Second, a higher national level of economic development underlies both fewer parents using corporal punishment and a higher national IQ.
The research hints at one among many potential origins for emotional disorders that have been observed among the Christian Right in recent times.
Deep anxiety, a widespread tendency to blame personal struggles on innocent people, a resistance to logical reasoning, and aggressive behavior have recently surfaced in town hall meetings, Tea Party protests, and leading social-conservative talk shows.
Anxiety, projection, irrational thinking, and aggressive behavior have long been evident among ex-gay political activists — among them, Scott Lively, James Hartline, Anthony Falzarano, Regina Griggs, Estella Salvatierra, and Karen Booth. Among ex-gay allies, similar traits are exhibited by much of the Christian Right leadership — especially Linda Harvey, Peter LaBarbera, the Traditional Values Coalition, and certain state political affiliates of Focus on the Family.
At Exodus International headquarters, anxiety and aggression are less evident. But projection and vengeance have become woven throughout the leadership’s activities and marketing. It is routine for Exodus president Alan Chambers and second-in-command Randy Thomas to project their own insecurities, their own desire to control information, their youthful indiscretions, and their own preoccupation with homosexuality onto “secular society.”
Chambers all but admits that he is motivated to inhibit equality for gay Americans by a spirit of vengeance: If gay Americans are treated fairly, then young adults will no longer seek to become ex-gay, Chambers says. He blames the growing freedom that sexually honest LGBT people enjoy for the self-suppressing misery that ex-gays choose to face alone.
Spanking is surely not the sole or perhaps even primary cause of emotional disorders among Christian Rightists. But perhaps further research should be done to explore the roots of the Christian Right’s sociopathy.