Argument: Moderate corporal punishment is not psychologically damaging
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David Benatar. "Corporal Punishment Social Theory and Practice". Social Theory and Practice. Summer 1998: "c. Corporal punishment is psychologically damaging
It is claimed that corporal punishment has numerous adverse psychological effects, including depression, inhibition, rigidity, lowered self-esteem and heightened anxiety.(9)
Although there is evidence that excessive corporal punishment can significantly increase the chances of such psychological harm, most of the psychological data are woefully inadequate to the task of demonstrating that mild and infrequent corporal punishment has such consequences. One opponent of corporal punishment who has provided data on even mild and infrequent physical chastisement is Murray Straus.(10) His research, which is much more sophisticated than most earlier investigations into corporal punishment, does lend support to the view that even infrequent noninjurious corporal punishment can increase one's chances of being depressed. However, for two reasons this research is inadequate to the task of demonstrating that mild corporal punishment is wrong. First, the studies are not conclusive. The main methodological problem is that the studies are not experiments but post facto investigations based on self-reports.(11) Murray Straus recognizes this(12) but nevertheless thinks that the studies are compelling. The second point is that even if Professor Straus's findings are valid, the nature of the data is insufficiently marked to justify a moral condemnation of mild and infrequent corporal punishment. For instance, the increase of depression, according to his study, is not substantial for rare physical punishment. The increments on his Mean Symptoms Index of depression are only slight for one or two instances of corporal punishment during one's teen years. The increments are somewhat more substantial for three to nineteen incidents of corporal punishment but, surprisingly, for twenty to twenty-nine incidents the Mean Symptoms Index falls again nearly to the level of two episodes of corporal punishment.(13) The chances of having suicidal thoughts, according to this study, decreases marginally with one incident of corporal punishment during adolescence, then rises slightly for three to five episodes of corporal punishment. For ten to nineteen instances of physical punishment the likelihood of having suicidal thoughts is approximately the same as it is for those who are not beaten at all during adolescence. The probability increases markedly for more than twenty-nine episodes of physical punishment during one's teens,(14) as one would expect when many beatings are administered. Professor Straus does not provide data about how physical punishment during (preteen) childhood affects the likelihood of depression, which would have been interesting given that one might expect corporal punishment to be psychologically more damaging to adolescents than to younger children."