Because Childhood Lasts a Lifetime.

Physical Punishment: Attitudes, Behaviors, and Norms Associated with Its Use Across the US

Reducing the prevalence of child physical abuse, as a common adverse childhood experience, could dramatically improve the well-being of children. Physical punishment (PP), also known as spanking, slapping, popping, whooping, or smacking, is defined as the “use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury.” PP is strongly associated with increased risk for child physical abuse. Experiencing PP places a child at risk for many behavioral, mental, and physical problems throughout life, and has been shown to be more detrimental than child physical and emotional abuse across some developmental outcomes.

In summer 2020, Prevent Child Abuse America contracted with Dr. Julia Fleckman to develop a questionnaire to assess attitudes, behaviors, and norms associated with PP. Members of the research committee of the National Initiative to End Corporal Punishment (NIECP) provided valuable feedback on the development of the survey, which utilized validated measures including attitudes toward PP, perceived injunctive PP norms, frequency of parental use of PP, and attitudes toward policies banning PP. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) at Tulane University approved the survey and protocol for administration.

This report showcases findings from that survey of over 3,000 US adults to better understand attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and perceptions associated with PP. These findings largely support declining trends in PP identified in prior work and provide new insights for policy, intervention, and social norms change efforts.

Lead author:


Dr. Melissa T. Merrick

Related Resources

Toolkits & Guides

Corporal Punishment One-pager

Research Reviews

Special Issue on Social Norms

Research Reviews

Emerging Science on Corporal Punishment

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