The study, published in the journal Social Development, found a harshly punitive environment may have long-term detrimental effects on children's verbal intelligence and executive-functioning ability -- psychological processes such as planning, abstract thinking and delaying gratification -- and may be at risk for behavioral problems.
Victoria Talwar of McGill University, Stephanie M. Carlson of the University of Minnesota and Kang Lee of the University of Toronto said the study involved 63 children in kindergarten or first grade at two West African private schools. Their families lived in the same urban neighborhood and were largely civil servants, professionals and merchants, the researchers said.
In one school, discipline was in the form of beating with a stick, slapping of the head and pinching administered publicly and routinely for offenses ranging from forgetting a pencil to being disruptive in class.
In the second school, children were disciplined for similar offenses with the use of time-outs and verbal reprimands.
"This study demonstrates that corporal punishment does not teach children how to behave or improve their learning," Talwar said in a statement. "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."