Sunday, March 05, 2017

Spanking doesn't make people stupid

Stefan Molyneux, an outspoken critic of corporal punishment, highlighting studies that have found a correlation between IQ and whether or not a child was spanked:

This video is from six years ago and Molyneux has made the admirable shift from libertarian to HBD realism over that period of time, so I'm not sure he'd insinuate causation now.

In any case, there's a perfectly plausible, empirically sound mechanism to explain the fact that children who are spanked tend to have lower IQ than children who are not that has nothing to do with the corporal punishment itself. Intelligence is heritable, and less intelligent people are more likely to spank their kids than more intelligent people are.

The average IQ, as converted from wordsum scores assuming a mean American white IQ of 100 and a standard deviation of 15, of adults by how they feel about the statement that it is "sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking" (n = 14,874):

Spanking needed?IQ
Strongly agree94.7
Strongly disagree102.9

Spanking doesn't lower intelligence, parents of relatively low intelligence--who, on average, have kids with relatively low intelligence--are just more likely to spank.

My guess is corporal punishment, so long as it doesn't result in serious injury, is about as consequential to life outcomes as other parenting behaviors are--that is, it doesn't make a difference one way or the other. It's long-term effects are as consequential as the decision of whether to play Baby Einstein or the local pop 40 station as you rock your child to sleep. It comes down to preference--I'll opt for Baby Einstein and timeout, but everyone's mileage will vary.

If it's primarily a cathartic exercise for the parent, that strikes (heh) me as being closer to child abuse than good parenting, but people work things out in different ways. It's not something my wife and I practice, but I see no reason to prohibit, say, blacks from doing it if they feel it necessary.

GSS variables used: WORDSUM, SPANKING, BORN(1)


Jokah Macpherson said...

I'm too lazy to look it up at the moment but I remember a finding in The Bell Curve (that Charles Murray is everywhere this week!) that spanking's effectiveness was linked to its consistency with undesirable behaviors. Like if dad hits you randomly depending on whether he'd drunk or in a bad mood, it's not very effective at all, but if he spanks you in response to specific misbehaviors and makes the connection clear, it tends to correct them.

Ok, I guess I'm not so lazy after all...Murray/Herrnstein cite a 1959 article by Melvin Kohn making the point I describe above.

I'm with you though that it probably doesn't matter much either way in terms of ultimate outcomes in adulthood. I got spanked a lot as a kid and didn't mind it too much; it was actually good in the sense that it provided a sense of order to the world: you misbehave, you pay the price. On the other hand, other punishments also communicate this effectively.

According to my mom, my grandfather would hit her with a belt when she misbehaved, which sounds horrible to 21st century sensibilities, but he would always clearly explain that he was doing it out of parental love, so there was never any long-term harm.

Feryl said...

How we feel about parenting is mostly influenced by whoever is in now in their 20's, 30's, and 40's. In the 80's and 90's Boomers raged about how to parent; they might not have necessarily agreed on what to do specifically but they were trying to do something, which is more than you can say for Silents in the 60's and 70's.Who turned a blind eye towards child issues which led to neglect and abuse of kids soaring in the 70's and 80's.

As Gen X-ers have shaped parenting culture in the 2000's and 10's, they don't find it necessary to debate parenting like Boomers did. Why? For one thing, they've never been comfortable bossing other people around. For another, they experienced first hand an often cruel world. So they intuitively grasp what not to do with kids. Most Boomers did not experience abuse, thus why they would (at times publicly) try to reckon with and caution against things they believed were harmful to kids. Some of this was ego driven preening; I care more about kids than you!

Unknown said...

My father grew up during the depression and, like many men of that era, never finished high school, and it was not from lack of intelligence. He spanked me, with his belt, when I did something wrong. It taught me that there are consequences to one's acts and that certain things are just plain wrong and should not be done in a civilized world. The spankings were never that painful but they conveyed a pretty strong message. Some transgressions only require a stern warning, others require corporal punishment and the failure to administer corporal punishment when warranted is a mistake and I think we see evidence of that today. Look at all the spoiled brat protesters who are throwing a tantrum over recent political events. Maybe a good swatting when they were younger might have made them more responsible adults.

Paul Rain said...

I've always had the impression that corporal punishment is a lot more likely to be effective with less intelligent children than 'time out', or worse, actually trying to reason with a child.

I'm sure that 'peaceful parenting' works great with most 115 IQ kids. I'm also pretty sure that it's a terrible idea for most 85 IQ kids, even if their parents are smart enough to implement it effectively.

It would be nice if there was evidence of this, but common sense is enough for me.

Nothing makes me more angry than when SWPL types try to claim that because they grew up a spoilt brat with no siblings, and their parents never spanked them, and they 'turned out alright' (even though they didn't, really)- that spanking is wrong for everyone. These insensitive featherheads who advocate anti-spanking laws should be forced to live among the class of people who actually do need spanking to control their kids.

WeAreTheWest said...

1. I saw this video many years ago (fairly early on after discovering Stef), and was so flabbergasted that I posted on FDR about it, cannot find a record of that though. Looks like the mods purge old threads.
2. Molyneux makes some extravagant claims here that are not in any way warranted by the evidence he cites.
3. I believe he actually went so far as to say that Africa was held back with respect to East Asia due to spanking (!).
4. His broader point is that being spanked (i.e., abused) is what makes children violent.
5. One of the studies was sensible enough to point that since they failed to control for pre-existing aggression, the results were not meaningful.
6. As I recall another one that purported to show an IQ difference failed to control for race.

To be fair Stef has evolved considerably since then...but FDR was alleged to be more than a little looney back in those days.

chris said...

"it doesn't make a difference one way or the other."

I would expect that spanking a child normalizes them to violence. Or at least makes them more resilient to it. I would think that might be a good thing. Too many liberal pacifists is the problem we have right now.

Anonymous said...

There is no need to pass an anti-spanking law, but personally I'm against it. If/when I have kids in the future, I won't spank them for 2 reasons:

1. I probably won't need to. As a previous commenter mentioned, high IQ children have less need to be spanked because it's easier to talk logic and reason with them. I plan on marrying a high IQ, low T man so that I can have high IQ, well-behaved children.

2. I don't want them to spank their kids when they grow up.

Let the low IQ and high T folks raise their kids how they want and let the high IQ and low T folks raise their kids however they want.

Anonymous said...

"There is no need to pass an anti-spanking law, but personally I'm against it. If/when I have kids in the future, I won't spank them for 2 reasons:

1. I probably won't need to. As a previous commenter mentioned, high IQ children have less need to be spanked because it's easier to talk logic and reason with them."

I can tell you have no children.

Reasoning with an intelligent 6 year old is still reasoning with a 6 year old-it's not reasoning with an intelligent person.

"I plan on marrying a high IQ, low T man so that I can have high IQ, well-behaved children."

I can tell you have no children.


Dan said...

As with all things, it depends.

If Jeb Bush had spanked his daughter Noelle when she was little she might not have grown up to be a crack addict. (Boy did 2016 bring the best available first family or what?)

Jeb's challenge was that parenting techniques that worked on him were different from what was appropriate for his kids because aich-bee-dee.

Unknown said...

I posted above, as "Unknown" (because that was the only option available to me on this site) and indicated that I was spanked as a child. That, apparently, prompted other posters to suggest that only low IQ parents "spank" their children who, in turn, grow up to be low IQ and violent adults. I like to think that my IQ is on par with most everyone else and I think my career as a successful corporate lawyer provides evidence of that. Moreover, I have never had to engage in acts of violence against persons or property.
also, I do not think that I am the exception in that regard. The problem with surveys and studies that deal with such issues is that the definitions of "spanking", "corporal punishment", etc. are highly subjective. When does a spanking become a beating? Is it duration, amount of force; what distinguishes an appropriate swat on the rear from a beating? What may be a warranted spanking to me might be a brutal beating to someone else who is more squeamish and sensitive to such things (e.g. the poster who thinks she will marry a high IQ fellow).
Old, established wisdoms and experiences, while not always infallible, became conventional wisdom for a reason. Maybe the old folks who believed in "Spare the rod and spoil the child." knew what they were talking about.

silly girl said...

As the parent of a high IQ, high T boy, I can tell you that spanking is effective and reasoning isn't because masculine leader types use their intelligence to get their own way and not to find ways to obey women. With my oldest son, the leader type, I tried reasoning etc. I didn't even bother with the second child. If he did something wrong, he got spanked, then an explanation, then the promise of another spanking if he did it again. The threat of a spanking is so much more believable after they have already got one. Anyway, the second child is much more compliant than the first. Smarter people are often more compliant sorts, but not always.

Random Dude on the Internet said...

I was a huge dork growing up. I never got spanked but my parents would take away my Nintendo if I did something wrong. I you asked me at eight years old if I would have rather been spanked than my NES taken away, I would have said yes!

Audacious Epigone said...


A consistent finding across studies is that spanking does tend to bring short-term gains, namely compliance. That's obvious, I guess, but worth pointing out. If effective long-term consequences are nil but it works in the moment, it has utility.

The only time I can imagine doing it is if one of my kids put themselves in serious danger (walking out into a busy street, tried to pet a vicious dog on a leash, etc), as a way of associating that risky behavior with immediate, acute negative feedback. Otherwise, I don't have it in me.

The other night my wife and I were downstairs. My daughter, who is 1, was asleep, and our son, who is 3, was laying in our bed upstairs where he was supposed to stay until we came up. We heard some commotion upstairs and I went up to get after him for not staying in bed like he was supposed to. He's gone into his room, climbed up his chest of drawers, grabbed his piggy bank off of it, gone into our room, climbed up our chest where I keep a container for loose change, opened up that container, and was in the process of putting money from my loose change container into his own piggy bank. How am I supposed to discipline in that situation? I couldn't do anything other than laugh.


What's the generational accounting for the so-called "helicopter parenting" phenomenon?


That certainly has a logical appeal to it. It's probably key that he did it in a controlled, methodical manner without any emotion involved. It's hard to argue that the demonstration of actions having consequences is a bad thing for kids. Personality traits are huge variables here, of which intelligence is only one.

It's not my intention to argue that only dumb people spank. The majority position on the GSS question is agreement. Even among those who scored a perfect 10 out of 10 on the wordsum test, agree/disagree with (at least occasional) spanking is split 50/50, so there are plenty of smart people who do it.

Paul Rain,

Well put, thanks. It's yet another example of why trying to understand human behavior without taking human biodiversity into account is to utterly fail to understand it.


I just started following Molyneux last year and have sporadically sampled his older stuff. He's come a long, long way in five years, that's for sure. It's encouraging to see someone with as much innate talent as he has be truly willing to go where the evidence takes him, even if he has false starts and gets off track along the way.


Forming a healthy, functional relationship with violence is an objective I'm really interested in. I got it in steady doses from a young age through sports that I've only just recently given up, but that's a masturbatory and not very systematic approach to the subject. It's still vastly better than what a lot of kids who have zero experience with it at all get today, though. It's a challenge, undoubtedly.


Hah! Maybe if you wait until embryo selection and full genetic screenings of fertilized eggs is perfected. Until then you're just talking about managing the probabilities. And if there's such thing as a reliably well-behaved three year-old, I haven't seen her.


Jeb's more genetically similar to his nieces, Dubya's daughters, than he is to his own kids. Again, because HBD. Keep it in-house, Jeb!

Silly girl,

It's a tactic, and like many other parenting tactics, its mileage will vary depending on the constitution of the parent(s) and the characteristics of the child(s).

Random Dude,

I remember being swatted by my mom here and there but never by my dad, which probably wasn't a very effective approach overall. I'm going to ask my parents about their thought processes wrt to spanking.

I'd get limited to half an hour on a weekend day if I screwed up. There's no margin of error on Double Dragon II with that kind of time frame. One game over and your chance at beating it that day is also over.

Feryl said...

'The only time I can imagine doing it is if one of my kids put themselves in serious danger (walking out into a busy street"

I remember my dad reprimanding me (and/or possibly my friend) for doing that. Once me and my brother got older, though, we had free rein. But we stayed mostly out of trouble, so it's not like our parents should've had a heavier hand.

The helicopter thing isn't as strong as it used to be, but that's because parents and kids have changed. Late Boomer parents with Millennial young kids in the 90's and 2000's were pretty officious. Understand that Boomers hated Gen X culture so Boomers were trying desperately to make sure that their kids were getting different signals than previous generations.

X-ers overseeing late Millennial and Homeland kids are quietly regimenting their kid's lives to remove any kind of excitement, uncertainty, danger, or fear. Boomers are rather erroneously criticized for being too soft on their kids; in fact, they often pushed their kids to achieve and do the right thing. And Boomers tended to approach parenting with an attitude of providing a map to their kids but not necessarily telling them the exact path to take. The tendency to ostentatiously badger anyone around their kids is not really the same thing as over-protectiveness. Granted, ANY form of parenting would seem over-protective compared to what Gen X kids experienced in the 70's thru mid 80's.

Now that egoist Boomers are no longer shouting at people for hurting their kid's feelings or teaching them evil ideas, it seems like parents have calmed down a lot. I think it's because X-ers intuitively guide their kids while still not being "over" the notion that they shouldn't engage with a world that never appreciated them. Ya know how activism skipped a generation in the 80's and 90's. Why put that much effort into even thinking about society when society treats you like you don't exist. Besides, the Boomers sure thought they were making a difference, and look at how that turned out.

Strauss and Howe say that mercenary generations become reclusive as they age. We've seen ample evidence of Silents and Boomers trying to remain as powerful and active as they were as youngsters. You can imagine why X-ers get more comfortable sitting things out.

Jokah Macpherson said...

Great story about your son! From what I can tell this sort of thing is a common dilemma among parents; it's hard to punish something that's technically wrong but also quite cute or clever.

Paavo said...

Why did taboo against spanking and other kinds of physical punishment develop so quickly in the west, though there seemed to be long tradition of it and much of it was supported by scripture and even secular parenting guides.

I'm under impression that the rate of spanking declined for a long time and that fewer men who were veterans of WWII spanked their children than their fathers had done. My parents born in the fifties were influenced by being afraid of their parents and took every measure possible not to be scary authoritarians themselves.

But I guess it depends on children. If you have a violent child you will be more likely to use violent methods to control him. A lot of criminal adults seem to blame their violence on being beaten as children by parents or teachers. More likely correlation is that violent, impulsive, unempathic children are more likely to be punished physically and otherwise.