CBS News covered the research of SMU Psychology Professor George W. Holden, an expert in spanking and its adverse impact on child development. Holden is co-author on a new study that found corporal punishment is viewed as more acceptable and effective when it’s referred to as spanking.

The new study found that parents and nonparents alike feel better about corporal punishment when it’s called spanking rather than hitting or beating.

Study participants judged identical acts of a child’s misbehavior and the corporal punishment that followed it, but rated the discipline as better or worse simply depending on the verb used to describe it.

SMU psychologist Alan S. Brown was lead author on the study.

Holden is a noted expert on parenting, discipline and family violence and a professor in the SMU Department of Psychology.

He strongly advocates against corporal punishment and cites overwhelming research, including his own, that has demonstrated that spanking is not only ineffective, but also harmful to children, and many times leads to child abuse.

Holden is a founding member of the U.S. Alliance to End the Hitting of Children,

Brown is an expert in how people store and retrieve information about the real world, and the manner in which those processes fail us, such as tip of the tongue experience, where one is momentarily stymied in accessing well-stored knowledge.

He also explores the prevalence of other varieties of spontaneous familiarity, related to déjà vu, and whether there are changes across the age span and how people incorporate other’s life experiences into their own autobiography.

The CBS News article, “The ‘spanking’ debate: Views depend on what you call it,” published Jan. 5, 2017.

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By Mary Brophy Marcus
CBS News

Words matter when it comes to how people perceive parents’ actions when they discipline their kids, a new study shows.

When researchers at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, asked adults – 481 parents and 191 without kids – to judge a child’s misbehavior and the punishment that followed, the study participants were more accepting of the same violent punishment when it was called a “spank” versus terms like “slap,” “hit” or “beat.”

In other words, the same form of discipline was considered better or worse depending on the verb used to describe it, study author Dr. George Holden, professor and chair of the department of psychology at SMU, told CBS News.

“Other people have talked about this issue, so it’s not a novel idea, but no one to date has done an empirical study to show simply by changing the particular verb used to describe a parental act that it does indeed change peoples’ perceptions,” he said.

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