Physical discipline and cognitive deprivation associated with specific types of developmental delay

February 05, 2021

Washington, DC, February 5, 2021 -A study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP), published by Elsevier, reports that in a diverse, cross-national sample of youth, physical discipline and cognitive deprivation had distinct associations with specific domains of developmental delay. The findings are based on the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys, which is an ongoing, international household survey initiative coordinated and assisted by the United Nations agency, UNICEF.

"Physical discipline and cognitive deprivation are well-established risks to child development. However, it is rare that these experiences are examined in relation to each other," said lead author Carmel Salhi, ScD, an Assistant Professor at the Department of Health Sciences, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA. "Our study allowed us to explore how these experiences co-occur in childhood internationally and whether they relate to different aspects of child development.

"This is important as recent research in neuroscience suggests that experiences, which provoke fear, have different effects on a child's neurodevelopment than cognitive deprivation."

A sample of 29,792 children between the ages of 3 - 6 years old and their caregivers, across 17 countries completed measures of physical discipline, cognitive deprivation and risk of developmental delay. Factors used to determine physical discipline included spanking or slapping on the arm, hand, or leg. Cognitive deprivation included not counting or reading with a child over the past 3 days and the absence of books in the home.

"To see if this framework has the potential to inform policy and public health interventions, we conducted the first large-scale epidemiological study using this conceptual framework," Dr. Salhi added.

Physical discipline was associated with 50 percent higher odds for risk of socioemotional delay, at least 2.5 times higher than the risk of any of the experiences of cognitive deprivation. Not counting or not reading with the child were associated with 47 percent and 62 percent higher odds, respectively, for risk of cognitive delay. Physical discipline did not confer any risk of cognitive delay.

These findings suggest that the distinction between fear and deprivation in child development, established in clinical neuroscience, is important to public health research and interventions. Furthermore, a large body of evidence links both physical discipline and experiences of cognitive deprivation with poverty and social marginalization. Taken together, this suggests that redistributive policies that alleviate socioeconomic strain can have demonstrably positive effects across a range of child developmental outcomes within a population.
Notes for editors

The article is "Physical Discipline, Deprivation, and Differential Risk of Developmental Delay Across 17 Countries," by Carmel Salhi, ScD, Elizabeth Beatriz, PhD, Ryan McBain, ScD, Dana McCoy, PhD, Margaret Sheridan, PhD, Gunther Fink, PhD ( It currently appears on the JAACAPArticles In Press page and will appear in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, volume 60, issue 2 (February 2021), published by Elsevier.

Copies of this paper are available to credentialed journalists upon request; please contact the JAACAP Editorial Office at or +1 202 587 9674. Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Carmel Salhi


Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) is the official publication of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. JAACAP is the leading journal focusing exclusively on today's psychiatric research and treatment of the child and adolescent. Published twelve times per year, each issue is committed to its mission of advancing the science of pediatric mental health and promoting the care of youth and their families.

The Journal's purpose is to advance research, clinical practice, and theory in child and adolescent psychiatry. It is interested in manuscripts from diverse viewpoints, including genetic, epidemiological, neurobiological, cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, social, cultural, and economic. Studies of diagnostic reliability and validity, psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacological treatment efficacy, and mental health services effectiveness are encouraged. The Journal also seeks to promote the well-being of children and families by publishing scholarly papers on such subjects as health policy, legislation, advocacy, culture and society, and service provision as they pertain to the mental health of children and families.

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