Child psychologist George Holden of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who favors alternatives to corporal punishment, wanted to see if parents' positive views toward spanking could be reversed if they were made aware of the existing research.
Holden and three SMU colleagues used a simple, fast, inexpensive method to briefly expose 118 college students to short research summaries that detailed spanking's negative impact.
The summary consisted of several sentences describing the link between spanking and short- and long-term child behavior problems, including aggressive and delinquent acts, poor quality of parent-child relationships and an increased risk of child physical abuse.
Nearly 75 percent of the study subjects said after seeing the research they thought less favorably of spanking.
A second study replicated the first study, but with 263 parent participants, predominantly white mothers. The researchers suspected parents might be more resistant to change their attitudes on spanking because they established disciplinary practices, were more invested in their current practices and have sought advice from trusted individuals.
However, after reading brief research statements online, 47 percent of the parents changed their attitudes and expressed less approval of spanking.
"Parents spank with good intentions -- they believe it will promote good behavior, and they don't intend to harm the child. But research increasingly indicates that spanking is actually a harmful practice," Holden said in a statement.
"These studies demonstrate that a brief exposure to research findings can reduce positive corporal punishment attitudes in parents and non-parents."