How Harsh Parenting Affects Child's Brain

MONTREAL, Sept. 22 (UPI) — Studies show coercive parenting — spanking, yelling, grabbing — are linked to anxiety in children but Canadian researchers are testing how the brain reacts.

Lead investigator Francoise Maheu, a professor at the Universite de Montreal, and her team are determining how the anatomy or physiology of the brain is affected by coercive parenting. They are recruiting 120 teens ages 12-17 split into four groups based on two variables — current anxiety symptoms and their parents’ current harsh parenting practices.


The teens are given behavioral tests and functional magnetic resonance imaging is used to measure their brain activity.

Maheu says the researchers will be able to correlate brain activity with fear and anxiety.

“Several studies have shown that coercive parenting practices are linked to anxiety,” Maheu says in a statement. “We know that common practices such as spanking or excessive punishment do not instill a strong discipline. Quite the opposite, they have a lasting psychological impact on children.”

The researchers hypothesize two specialized structures, the amygdala and the anterior congulate cortex, which form the neural fear circuit, play a role in mediating the anxiety associated with harsh parenting, Maheu says.

“Investigating the links among harsh parenting, fear circuitry and anxiety in youths will provide key insights on the developmental neurobiology of harsh parenting and anxiety,” Maheu says.

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