The University of Montreal is doing a study to investigate the link between corporal punishment and the development of anxiety disorders in children. Previous studies have shown that “…coercive parenting practices are linked to anxiety,” according to Professor Françoise Maheu of the Université de Montréal's Department of Psychiatry.
Coercive or harsh parenting and corporal punishment not only cause anxiety but also may change neural connections in children’s developing brains by altering their biochemistry. So in addition to anxiety, the continued stress may cause permanent physical changes in the brain along with psychological problems.
The hypothesis is that the amygdala and anterior congulate cortex, which help to regulate emotion and memory, are physically affected by harsh parenting. This is the same general area of the brain involved in anxiety disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder. It is important to study this issue because early intervention to prevent neural and biochemical changes can prevent future issues such as alcoholism related to poor coping skills in adults with anxiety problems.
The university is recruiting 120 children aged 12-17 who will be split into four groups. They will undergo functional MRI to see how the brain reacts to behavioral testing. This will help show the correlation between anxiety and brain function.
Anxiety disorders are thought to be caused by a combination of nature and nurture. Genetics, biochemical imbalances, and stressors such as a difficult home life all contribute to anxiety in children. Parents with poor coping skills are unable to teach children how to cope with stress, multiplying the problem.
More and more research is being done with functional MRI. Findings often demonstrate that there is not only a psychological or “mind” component to these problems, but physical changes in the brains chemistry and neural connections.
The goal is to find how genetics and environment interact, so professionals can intervene early to lessen the chronic issues that may contribute to physical changes in the brain.