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If you need a reason not to spank your children (and if you do, seriously, what's your problem?) then you may want to consider that it may have long-term effects on their cognitive functioning, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Toronto, McGill University and the University of Minnesota looked at two private schools in a West African country, one which used corporal punishment and one that relied on disciplinary measures such as time-outs. The researchers found that children in the school that used corporal punishment performed significantly worse in tasks involving executive functioning, which includes abstract thinking, planning and delaying gratification.

Parents of kids at both schools lived in the same urban neighbourhood, and endorsed corporal punishment equally, suggesting the school environment accounts for the differences in children's tested abilities.

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In one school, discipline ranged from being beaten with a stick, slapped on the head, and pinched. In the other, children were disciplined with time-outs and verbal reprimands.

While the kids in kindergarten in both schools showed little difference when it came to performance on executive functioning tasks, the Grade 1 kids in the non-punitive school scored significantly higher than those in the school where corporal punishment was employed.

"This study demonstrates that corporal punishment does not teach children how to behave or improve their learning," McGill University's Victoria Talwar said in a release. "In the short term, it may not have any negative effects; but if relied upon over time it does not support children's problem-solving skills, or their abilities to inhibit inappropriate behaviour or to learn."

The study was published by the journal Social Development.

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