Child Temperament as a Moderator for the Outcomes of Corporal Punishment

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Clinical Psychology


Department of Psychology


Advisor: Jackson Goodnight


The use of corporal punishment (CP) as a disciplinary strategy is a highly controversial topic among the scientific community and general public alike. Although there is extensive research suggesting that CP is ineffective and potentially harmful, many individuals are hesitant to make definitive claims about the outcomes of CP, citing limitations in past methodology. Notably, past studies have not examined the outcomes of CP within the context of individual differences among children. The purpose of this study was to understand if temperament, that is, early appearing, stable individual differences in reactivity and self-regulation (Rothbart & Bates, 1998) moderates the outcomes of CP. This study utilized data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth Child and Young Adult cohort (CNLSY) to examine: (1) if children who receive CP exhibit higher levels of internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, depressive symptoms, delinquent behavior compared to children who do not receive CP; (2) if, among children who receive CP, those with moderate temperaments exhibit lower levels of internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, depressive symptoms, and delinquent behavior compared to biological siblings with difficult temperaments; and (3) if children with difficult temperaments will differentially benefit from high levels of maternal responsiveness. Using structural equation modeling, we found that children who received higher levels of CP were significantly more likely to exhibit externalizing behavior problems compared to biological siblings who received CP less frequently. In addition, when mothers reported higher scores of maternal responsiveness, their children were significantly less likely to develop depressive symptoms in adolescence compared to biological siblings who experienced lower levels of maternal responsiveness. However, children with difficult temperaments were no more likely to be susceptible to the negative outcomes of CP or to benefit from higher levels of maternal responsiveness compared to children with more moderate temperaments. Implications for how these results inform the current body of literature regarding CP as well as limitations of this study are discussed.


Clinical Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Psychology, corporal punishment, spanking, temperament, differential susceptibility hypothesis, sibling comparison analysis

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Copyright © 2019, author