Toronto: Children in schools that mete out harsh punishments fumble at tasks involving planning and abstract thinking.
The findings suggest that a harshly punitive environment may have long-term detrimental effects on children`s verbal intelligence and their executive-functioning ability.
Such children may also be at risk of behavioural problems, suggests a study by professors Victoria Talwar, Stephanie M. Carlson and Kang Lee of McGill University and Universities of Minnesota and Toronto respectively.
The study involved 63 children in the kindergarten or first grade at two West African private schools, who inhabited the same neighbourhood. Their parents were largely civil servants, professionals and merchants, the journal Social Development reports.
In one school, discipline in the form of beating with a stick, slapping of the head and pinching was administered publicly and routinely for offences ranging from forgetting a pencil to being disruptive in class, according to a Toronto statement.
In the other school, children were disciplined for similar offences with the use of time-outs and verbal reprimands.
While the overall performance on executive-functioning tasks was similar in the younger children from both schools, the Grade 1 children in the non-punitive school scored significantly higher than those in the punitive school.
These results are consistent with research findings that punitive discipline may make children immediately compliant - but may reduce the likelihood that they will internalize rules and standards. That, in turn, may result in lower self-control as children get older.
"This study demonstrates that corporal punishment does not teach children how to behave or improve their learning," Talwar said.
"In the short term, it may not have any negative effects; but if relied upon over time it does not support children`s problem-solving skills, or their abilities to inhibit inappropriate behaviour or to learn."