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Corporal Punishment and its Correlation to Animal Cruelty Among Children

Animal cruelty is considered to be a potential risk factor for aggressive human behavior leading towards criminality. Animal cruelty can be defined as a socially unacceptable behavior that causes unnecessary pain and suffering of an animal, eventually leading towards death (Ascione, 1999). Research has examined broader literature on aggression and other antisocial behavior and found factors that are predictive of animal cruelty involving biological risk factors and individual difference risk factors (Gullone, 2014). When evaluating risk factors, one may also have to consider the developmental spectrums and environmental factors such as a child’s family and parenting experiences.

Previous research has shown that the leading factors of animal cruelty include being a victim of physical or sexual abuse, witnessing violence between one’s parents, witnessing parents or peers abuse, experiences of being bullied, or the behavior of bullying (Flynn, 2011).

Researchers believe that if corporal punishment is related to aggression against humans then it can possibly lead to violence towards animals. Aggression can possibly occur due to a lack of empathy in early childhood.

Previous studies have also found the negative outcomes related to corporal punishment that has not focused on the parents or child’s gender. Certain behaviors such as delinquency, crime, and interpersonal violence are examined among animal cruelty and are also behaviors found disproportionately among males (Flynn, 1999). Intervention programs are created to encourage better disciplinary practices for parents to avoid corporal punishment. Improving disciplinary practices may reduce violent activity such as animal cruelty among children.

Corporal punishment can be defined as the physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain for the purpose of correction or control of the child’s behavior (Straus, 1994).

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Research has shown that the cultural spillover theory argues that the greater the level of socially approved violence in society, the greater the level of illegitimate violence there would be. An individual that has more exposure to culturally accepted behavior, the more likely it is for them to engage in culturally unacceptable violence. We can assume that corporal punishment is a culturally accepted issue that may lead to unacceptable violence such as animal cruelty. The highest rates of corporal punishment were found among young children and adolescents (Flynn, 1999).

Researchers have hypothesized that parents tend to use corporal punishment on difficult children. They believed that difficult children are more likely to frustrate their parents, and will eventually incorporate harsh discipline. This observation can indicate that parents use corporal punishment for misbehaviors involving aggression. Children who engage in frequent aggressive activity will most likely be corporally punished by their parents. Researchers have also stated a strong linkage between parents and their children’s shared genetics. It was believed that a shared genetic predisposition to be aggressive may result in both parents and children to be easily frustrated and aggressive. We can assume that a parents tendency to become aggressive may be inherited by the child’s aggressive behavior, that may lead to corporal punishment from the parents, and possibly encourage children to act aggressively towards their peers and animals (Gershoff & Bitensky, 2007).

Physical punishment is crucial to the primary and continuity of the socialization process. Physical punishment usually begins during the first year after birth and continues during preschool years in which personality traits are presumably formed. The most common forms of punishment are spanking, slapping, grabbing, and shoving a child roughly, and hitting a child with an object as well. These physical punishments are considered legally permissible, as parents in the U.S including teachers have a legal right to these acts. Although, if someone who was not in a custodial relationship to a child, the same act would be considered as a criminal assault (Status, 1991).

Previous research has shown that experiencing several physical punishments in childhood and exposure to animal cruelty has a linkage among criminals. Studies have shown that three-quarters of aggressive criminals reported to have repeated and excessive child abuse compared to 31% nonaggressive criminals and 10% noncriminal. Although, 75% noncriminal who reported experiences of parental abuse also reported being cruel to animals (Gullone, 2014). Researchers reported that adolescents who witnessed animal abuse showed significant higher levels to committing animal cruelty, especially when the abuse was perpetrated by a family member, friend, stranger, and when witnessed more frequently (Degrue & Dilillo, 2009). Therefore, social learning plays a significant role in the abuse of animals by children especially if the behaviors are modeled by important figures. It has been stated that children learn social roles by modeling what they see and hear (Bandura, 1977), signifying that animal cruelty is possibly learned behavior (Cheryl L., 2006). One can assume that parental animal abuse may have created a pattern of violence to exert control over human victims of family violence (Degrue & Dilillo, 2009).

For example, a report stated that male batterers may harm family pets as a way to control and manipulate females victims (Arkow, 1996; Ascione, 1999; Ascione et al., 2007; Boat, 1999; Flynn, 2000; Millikin, 1999). From this we can initiate that child abusers may threaten or injure animals to gain silence or compliance from a child victim. Animal abuse may be considered as a form of victim control that may hinder child abuse or domestic violence reports that occurs within the household (Degrue, Dilillo, 2009). Children and adolescents usually target smaller animals such as rodents, birds, and reptiles, dogs and cats. Common forms of animal abuse were shooting and direct aggression such as hitting, beating, kicking, or throwing an animal against the wall. Direct physical aggression was used more commonly when animals were tortured (Flynn, 1999). Studies found a significant positive relationship between childhood spanking and animal cruelty, mainly among males who were punished by their fathers (Flynn, 1999). Males who were more frequently punished by their fathers had a higher chance to commit animal cruelty. Animal cruelty among male children were held after controlling for child abuse, father to mother violence, and fathers level of education.

Gender differences in animal abuse have consistently emerged in research studies. One study showed that males were 35% more likely to inflict abuse on animals compared to 9% of females. Further statistics showed that males were six times more likely to have tortured an animal and six times more likely to have killed a pet compared to females (Flynn, 1999). Studies have initiated that corporal punishment by fathers during preteen and adolescent years leads to male children’s cruelty to animals (Flynn, 1999). It was further stated that animal cruelty behavior can potentially be caused by a fathers socioeconomic status or education that has led to their child’s deviancy. A study showed that if the father is less educated, there would be higher rates of animal cruelty than those whose father were more educated (Flynn, 1999). A father is generally considered to be less involved in childrearing than mothers. This then may state why corporal punishment by fathers is harsher on sons. This act between father and son models aggressive behavior, which is what males are expected to emulate.

Males overall, are expected and perceived as aggressive individuals by society. Masculine socialization tends to lead towards dominance and aggression. Males who experienced frequent corporal punishment from powerful figures such as parents, especially fathers, may enhance the behavior of abusive treatment towards the less powerful such as animals. Male children have more exposure to animal cruelty and domestic violence for a longer proportion of their lifetime than girls (Cheryl L., 2006). Researchers have stated the linkage between gender, animals cruelty and empathy. Higher rates of animal cruelty committed by males can inhibit their development for empathy. The psychological effects that are experienced from both the recipient of violence from a parent and a perpetrator of violence of an animal may reinforce the instrumental use of violence. Males may have been conditioned that violence is appropriate when they were being hit by their fathers, and explains why may have incorporated violence to animals (Flynn, 1999).

Aggression can be defined as the behavior that leads to harm or injure other individuals (Gullone, 2014). Individuals who experienced or observed abuse in their formative years were more likely to condition aggressive behaviors, hostile perceptions, attributions, and expectation biases (Gullone, 2014). Reports showed that a parents main purpose for corporal punishment is when their children have behaved aggressively, such as hitting their younger sibling and being antisocial, such as stealing money. We can assume that physical punishment may increase higher levels of aggression and antisocial behavior especially when it may lead to modeling the use of force in order to achieve desired ends (Bandura & Walters, 1959; Eron, Walder, & Lefkowitz, 1971). Aggression and antisocial behavior may also increase the likelihood of children making hostile attributions that increases the likelihood of them misbehaving in social interactions (Dodge, 1986; Weiss, Dodge, Bates, & Pettit, 1992).

During a child’s development year, they are more likely to learn callous attitudes and are unable to disengage from normative empathetic reactions, which serve as aggressive inhibitors. Callous-unemotional traits can be defined as the lack of sense of guilt and empathy and callously use other individuals for own gain (Frick & White, 2008). Research has shown that individuals who develop the callous-unemotional trait are at a higher risk or severity and stability of aggressive and antisocial behavior (Frick & Dickens, 2006). Children who live in violent homes may have lower levels of empathy and may be able than other children to justify their own use of violence (Jaffe, Wolfe, & Wilson, 1990). Researchers stated that children possibly imitate violent adult behaviors, also known as modeling, and often enjoy their feelings of power over animals they harm without suffering emotionally. When a child is exposed to violence such as animal cruelty, it may interfere with their development of empathy and lack of prosocial behaviors. Empathy can be defined as the understanding or identifying with another individuals response (Mcphedran, 2009). If an individual is capable of empathy, then they will be less likely to harm others and more likely to help them.

Empathy serves as a protective factor against aggression. It enhances immediate feedback and discourages aggressive behavior by making the perpetrator aware of, and possibly sympathetic toward another person’s suffering. Parental aggression towards a child can possibly be a result of lack of empathy and may contribute to impairment in childhood empathy development. Lack of parental empathy may then lead to animal cruelty and other violent, callous behaviors. Abusive parents tend to have lower levels of empathy development and do not express behaviors to contribute to the development of empathy to a child (Mcphedran, 2009).

Corporal punishment is one of the main key contributors to perpetuation of violence in numerous societies (Straus, 1996). National surveys have stated that 75% of adults believed that a good spanking is appropriate and sometimes a necessary disciplinary practice (Child Trends, 2009). Corporal punishment is linked to unintended negative behaviors such as being aggressive and delinquent activity in children. There are several parenting training programs that are aiming to use non-punitive methods of discipline. Being aware of an individual’s attitudes about corporal punishment is a good construct towards targeting change because its highly correlated with daily reports of spanking (Holden, Brown, Baldwin, & Caderao, 2014). Certain attitudes are determined through subjective personal experiences from influential individuals (Graziano & Namaste, 1990; Simons & Wurtele, 2010; Taylor et al., 2011; Taylor, Moeller, Hamvas, & Rice, 2012).

One study have determined that professionals such as pediatricians and psychologists had inconsistent biases about corporal punishment. Parents who spanked and parents who did not spank believed that professionals had their own biases towards corporal punishment. Individuals should be aware of the new information about harmful effects with spanking, or physical punishment. Specific attitudes such as having a “spanking attitude” should be viewed as a major determinant of behavioral intention and best predictor of behavior. Many parent education programs were successful when they targeted issues such as changed attitudes, behavioral intentions, and behaviors with regards to corporal punishment. Although, these programs lasted for several weeks and were stated to be time-consuming, labor intensive, and costly (Holden, Brown, Baldwin, & Caderao, 2014).

Another intervention that had successful results was using educational campaigns to reduce corporal punishment, known as the “Hitting Children Must Stop, FULL STOP” campaign. This campaign was created in the United Kingdom and was led by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). This campaign showed significantly high percentages of parents reporting their own negative reactions when they used corporal punishment with their children. The campaign involved using posters and billboards across the country for a month and was announced on radio stations for two weeks (Gershoff & Bitensky, 2007). The parents were provided with a booklet called Encouraging Better Behaviour: A Practical Guide to Parenting (NSPCC, 2002a). The campaign aimed to educate the public about the protentional dangerousness of corporal punishment and alternative positive discipline techniques (Gershoff & Bitensky, 2007). The outcomes for this campaign showed that parents reported their own negative reactions corporal punishment. Statistics showed they felt 79% upset, 73% sad, 67% regretful, and 65% guilty (NSPCC, 2002b). We can assume that once parents recognize the negative aspects of corporal punishment, it will reduce aggression towards children and may eliminate animal abuse activity.

Overall, corporal punishment is a prominent yet culturally approved issue that became a potential threat for adolescents. The correlation between corporal punishment and animal cruelty had significant linkage towards each other. A parents aggressive behavior may be enhanced due to numerous factors such as biological genetic factors, having a difficult child, and aggressive and antisocial behavior among their children. When a parent uses physical punishment such as spanking, hitting, beating, etc., it may lead towards the aggression a child inputs when they beat an animal. They model the behavior in which they condition from their parents and use what they learned in other forms such as animal abuse. Corporal punishment plays a role in why children become deviant, antisocial, and aggressive in later stages of life, which can lead to criminal offenses. Gender differences demonstrate the biases that are created with male aggression and aggressive fathers that leads to animal cruelty.

More studies should focus on how mothers use corporal punishment on their son or daughter. Researchers should also conduct studies on the cultural differences using corporal punishment and which ethnicities may be affected. Interventions should focus on observing parents attitude behaviors on physical punishment because it can help them become aware of new information on corporal punishment and its long-term effects. Educational campaigns have shown to be significantly effective and shown to have high percentages in positive outcomes for negative reactions of corporal punishment. Once a parent becomes aware of these negative consequences, it may reduce the probability of aggression and animal cruelty among children and adults in the future.

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Corporal Punishment and its Correlation to Animal Cruelty Among Children. (2020, Sep 01). Retrieved from

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