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Exploring the Link between Corporal Punishment and Children's Cruelty to Animals

Author(s): Clifton P. Flynn

Source: Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 61, No. 4 (Nov., 1999), pp. 971-981
Published by: National Council on Family Relations
Stable URL:
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Journal of Marriage and the Family.
P. FLYNN University of South Carolina Spartanburg

Exploring the Link Between CorporalPunishment

and Children's Cruelty to Animals

The link between interpersonal violence and vio- specific connection between violence to animals
lence to animals has been suggested, but rarely and various forms of family violence. In fact, only
studied empirically, especially by family scholars. three published studies have examined this rela-
This study of 267 college undergraduates exam- tionship directly-two focus on violence toward
ined the relationship between corporal punish- children (DeViney et al., 1983; Miller & Knutson,
ment inflicted by parents and the perpetration of 1997), and one focuses on battered women (As-
animal abuse. The findings revealed that males cione, 1998). Boat (1995) suggested that the virtual
who committed animal cruelty in childhood or absence of empirical research on the association
adolescence were physically punished more fre- between violence toward children and violence
quently by their fathers, both as preteens and toward animals may be an ignored link in the field
teenagers, than males who did not perpetrate ani- of child abuse and neglect.
mal abuse. This relationship did not hold for Children's cruelty to animals should receive se-
males spanked by mothers orforfemales spanked rious attention from researchers, clinicians, and
by either parent. Regression analyses showed that policymakers for several reasons. First, clinical
the association between fathers' corporal punish- studies of troubled youth and retrospective studies
ment and sons' childhood animal cruelty persisted of physically and sexually aggressive criminals
after controlling for child abuse, father-to-mother have revealed an association between childhood
violence, andfather's education. The implications animal abuse and subsequent violence toward oth-
of the association of animal abuse and family vio- ers, both in childhood and adulthood (Felthous &
lence and its gendered nature are discussed. Kellert, 1986; Rigdon & Tapia, 1977; Tapia, 1977;
Tingle, Barnard, Robbins, Newman, & Hutchin-
son, 1986). Second, cruel or abusive behavior
Although the link between the treatmentof animals toward animals by children may indicate serious
and the treatment of humans enjoys a long histori-
cal and philosophical tradition (DeViney, Dickert, developmental problems or potential psycho-
& Lockwood, 1983; Lockwood & Ascione, 1998), pathology. Animal cruelty has been associated with
a distortion or inhibition of empathy (Ascione,
surprisingly little attention has been given to the
1992, 1993), and beginning in 1987 the American
Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd edition, revised)
added physical cruelty to animals to the list of
Department of Sociology, University of South Carolina, Spar-
tanburg, SC 29303 ( symptoms serving as criteria for the diagnosis of
conduct disorder (Ascione, 1993). Third, child-
Key Words: animal abuse, animal cruelty, corporal punish- hood cruelty toward animals may identify not only
ment,family violence, spanking. children who may engage in future antisocial be-

Journal of Marriage and the Family 61 (November 1999): 971-981 971

972 Journal of Marriage and the Family

havior, but also those who are living in violent, theory." This theory argues that the greater the
dysfunctional families (Arkow, 1996; Boat, 1995). level of socially approved violence in a society, the
Finally,the needless sufferingand death of countless greater the level of illegitimate violence. At the
animals are major problems that deserve attention. individual level, the more exposure to culturally
The limited empirical evidence linking vio- acceptable violence, the more likely one is to en-
lence to children and children's cruelty to animals gage in culturally unacceptable violence.
has focused on severe or abusive violence inflicted If corporal punishment is related to aggression
on children. Yet a growing body of research has against humans, then it also may be linked to vio-
revealed potential negative outcomes from what lence toward animals. Further, previous studies
many regard as ordinary or normal use of physical that have identified an array of negative outcomes
force-corporal punishment. The study presented related to corporal punishment have not focused
here seeks to examine the relationship between on the gender of the parent or the child. However,
receiving corporal punishment and perpetrating like animal abuse, the behaviors that are often ex-
animal abuse as a child or adolescent. This research amined-delinquency, crime, interpersonal vio-
is significant in several ways. It explores the rela- lence-tend to be behaviors that are dispropor-
tionship between parent-to-child violence and an- tionately carried out by males.
imal abuse using a nonclinical sample. It focuses Although the highest rates of corporal punish-
on corporalpunishment, not child abuse, it looks at ment are found with younger children, studies have
corporal punishment received prior to and during reported that about half of children are still being
adolescence, and it examines the influence of the hit as teenagers (Straus & Donnelly, 1993). Some
gender of both the punishing parent and the child. of the more serious effects of receiving corporal
For the purpose of this study, I adopted As- punishment, such as depression, suicide ideation,
cione's (1993) definition of animal cruelty.Ascione and wife beating (Straus & Kaufman Kantor, 1994;
defined animal cruelty as "socially unacceptable Straus& Yodanis, 1996), have been relatedto being
behavior that intentionally causes unnecessary spanked as an adolescent. There is some evidence
pain, suffering, or distress to and/or death of an that adolescence is not an uncommon period for
animal" (p. 228). This definition excludes socially committing animal cruelty (Arluke & Luke, 1997;
accepted practices, such as the humane killing of Miller & Knutson, 1997), yet the potential connec-
farm animals, hunting, and the use of animals in tion between perpetrating animal cruelty and
research. Unintentional acts that have harmful being spanked as a teen has not been investigated.
consequences are also excluded. Behaviors that are
cruel could be acts of omission as well as com- FAMILY VIOLENCE AND ANIMAL CRUELTY
mission, and pain, suffering, and distress encom-
pass emotional or psychological pain (e.g., teasing, The early research on children's cruelty to animals
bestiality), as well as physical pain. was based on two distinct groups: clinical samples
of psychiatric case studies of children and adoles-
cents that presented cruelty to animals as a main
AND ANIMAL CRUELTY complaint (e.g., Rigdon & Tapia, 1979; Tapia,
1971) and retrospective, self-report studies of
Research on the effects of corporal punishment childhood animal cruelty among aggressive adult
on subsequent child behavior has found spanking criminals (e.g., Felthous & Kellert, 1986; Kellert &
to be associated with delinquent or antisocial be- Felthous, 1985). In both populations, males often
havior, including interpersonal aggression inside reported experiencing chaotic and violent child-
and outside the family (Straus, 1991, 1994; Straus, hoods, typically at the hands of a brutalfather.
Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980; Straus, Sugarman, & DeViney et al. (1983) were the first to set out to
Giles-Sims, 1997). Corporal punishment, defined explore the relationship between child abuse and
by Straus (1994), is "the use of physical force with neglect and abuse of companion animals. In their
the intention of causing a child to experience study of 53 New Jersey families identified by the
pain, but not injury,for the purpose of correction or state as being involved in various forms of child
control of the child's behavior" (p. 4). This defini- abuse, 88% of families with physical abuse also
tion excludes more severe actions that many had animal abuse. The comparable percentage of
would view as abusive. animal abuse in families with other forms of abuse
Straus (1991, 1994) has explained these rela- (sexual abuse, neglect, or abuse due to psychiatric
tionships using what he calls "cultural spillover illness) was 34%. Animal abuse was defined using
Corporal Punishment and Animal Cruelty 973

four criteria:observable or reported pain or suffer- 10% had caused animals pain in order to tease or
ing due to unacceptable disciplinary actions, inhu- torturethem. Ten of the 308 students reported kill-
manely causing the death of an animal, abandoning ing their own pets.
the animal in an unnatural or dangerous environ- One difficulty with the Miller and Knutson
ment, and neglecting the animal. In approximately (1997) study is that the variable, childhood expo-
two thirds of the pet-abusing homes, fathers were sure to animal abuse, combined both observed and
the abusers; in the other one third, children were perpetratedanimal cruelty. As a result, the relation-
the abusers. ship between being physically punished and perpe-
DeViney and colleagues suggested that pet tratinganimal abuse was not clearly delineated. The
abuse by children can be explained by scapegoat- study presented here seeks to overcome this prob-
ing, a process whereby victims of child abuse in- lem by separating acts of animal cruelty that were
flict violence on their innocent and powerless pets. perpetratedfrom those that were only witnessed.
Veevers (1985) also referred to the scapegoat A second problematic issue is related to the
function that pets may serve in their role as surro- measure of physical punishment.The Physical Pun-
gate humans in families. Although DeViney et al.'s ishment Scale of the Assessing Environments III-
study focused on pets, other animals could serve Form SD was used as the measure of physical
as scapegoats as well. Similarly, children who are discipline. Although this scale has been shown to
physically punished frequently but who are not be both reliable and valid (Miller & Knutson,
abused might also scapegoat animals. 1997), it incorporates acts of physical discipline,
The only study to look specifically at the rela- such as punching, kicking, and choking, that most
tionship between physical punishment and animal would see as severe and potentially injurious-i.e.,
cruelty during childhood was conducted recently abusive. Thus, the relationship of milder forms of
by Miller and Knutson (1997). They surveyed two physical discipline-corporal punishment-to ani-
different populations-convicted felons and col- mal cruelty has yet to be determined.
lege students-and looked at the link between The limited empirical evidence suggests that
childhood exposure to animal cruelty and several there is a link between harsh physical punishment
variables related to family dynamics and peer re- and exposure to animal cruelty, that the majority of
lationships. Their measure of childhood exposure those who commit animal abuse are males, and that
to animal cruelty combined the number of acts in clinical samples, males who had committed cru-
that were both perpetrated and witnessed against elty to animals during their youth often reported
any animals, including pets, wild or stray animals, experiencing family violence while they were
and farm animals. Significant correlations were growing up, particularlyfrom their fathers. But do
found in both groups between exposure to animal these relationships hold when the violence experi-
cruelty and aversive childhood experiences. For the enced by children is ordinary spanking?
college sample, the variable with the strongest This study focuses on the relationship between
correlation to animal cruelty was physical punish- experiencing corporal punishment as a child and
ment (r = .28). However, despite these findings, engaging in animal abuse during childhood or
the modest nature of these associations led the au- adolescence. The following hypotheses are exam-
thors to conclude that "it would be inappropriate ined. First, I predict that males will commit animal
to consider reports of animal cruelty as a marker cruelty at higher rates than females. Second, I ex-
of physical maltreatment or physical maltreat- pect to find that the more frequently corporal pun-
ment as a marker of exposure to animal cruelty" ishment was received, the more likely the respon-
(p. 79). dent was to perpetrate animal abuse. This will be
In the sample of college students, nearly half true for spanking inflicted before adolescence, as
(48%) reported some exposure to animal cruelty. well as duringthe teenage years. Third,the relation-
However, the majority (57%) of respondents ex- ship between receiving corporal punishment and
posed to animal cruelty reported only witnessing perpetrating animal cruelty will be stronger for
acts of cruelty. Gender was significantly related to boys than for girls. Spanking by both fathers and
experiencing animal cruelty. Males were twice as mothers is examined to determine if the gender of
likely as females to report exposure to cruelty- the parentinfluences this relationship.Finally, mul-
69% to 33%. tiple regression is utilized to determine whether
One fifth of the sample reportedcommitting one any relationship between corporal punishment
or more acts of animal abuse. One in seven students and animal cruelty persists after controlling for
reported killing stray animals, and approximately relevant variables.
974 Journal of Marriage and the Family

METHODS Frequency of corporal punishment. The frequency

of corporalpunishment was assessed separately for
Sample and Data Collection fathers and mothers and for two periods-the pre-
teen years and the teenage years. Respondents
Two hundred and sixty-seven undergraduatesat a were asked: "About how often would you say your
public university in the SoutheasternUnited States father/stepfather (or mother/stepmother) used
served as participantsfor this study. Students in in-
physical punishment, like spanking, slapping, or
troductory sociology and psychology classes com- hitting you?" This operationalizationis identical to
pleted an 18-page questionnaire that asked about the one used by Turnerand Finkelhor (1996) and is
their experiences with family violence and animal similar to that used in other studies (Straus & Don-
cruelty. In addition, demographic information and nelly, 1993). Following Turner and Finkelhor, the
attitudinalitems were included. The questionnaire exclusion of hitting with objects from this defini-
took approximately25 minutes to complete. tion reduces the chance of including abusive behav-
The sample was predominantly White (73%). iors and thus more accurately represents physical
About one fifth were African American. Females
punishment that most Americans would consider
composed slightly more than two thirds of the "normal."
sample (68%). Over 80% of the respondents were Possible responses, coded 0-6, ranged from
either freshmen (59%) or sophomores (24%). Eight never to more than 20 times. Thus four distinct fre-
out of 10 were younger than 21 years old, and 92%
quency measures were acquired: spanking from
were younger than 25. The majority was single
fathers-preteen and teen, and spanking from
(90%) and childless (96%). Nearly 92% had broth- mothers-preteen and teen.
ers and sisters. Approximately 90% had pets in
their childhood families, and 80% currentlyowned Sociodemographic variables. To determinewhether
pets. any sociodemographic variables were related to
animal cruelty, the following six characteristics
Variables were assessed for respondents: gender, race, each
parent's level of education, and each parent's oc-
Perpetration of animal cruelty. Perpetrationof ani- cupation category. Eight possible responses for
mal cruelty was operationalized by asking respon-
parents' education were coded 0-7 and ranged from
dents whether they had committed one of five dif- some grade school to graduate degree. For par-
ferent acts against animals: (a) killed a pet, (b) ents' occupations, possible choices included semi-
killed a stray or wild animal, (c) hurt or torturedan skilled or unskilled worker; skilled work such as
animal to tease it or to cause it pain, (d) touched an foreman; farmer; clerical or sales position; propri-
animal sexually, or (e) had sex with an animal. If etor (except farm); and professional. This variable
any of the five were reported, the respondent was was dichotomized as blue collar or white collar.
considered to have committed animal cruelty. The first three categories served as indicators of
These items were taken from Miller and Knutson blue-collar occupations, and the latter three as
(1997), who adaptedthe Boat Inventoryon Animal- white-collar occupations. For mother's occupation,
Related Experiences, formerly called the Animal- respondents also could choose "not employed
Related TraumaInventory (Boat, 1999), for use in a outside the home."
questionnaire format. The inventory also includes
items that tap animal cruelty observed by the re- Other forms of family violence. Any relationship
spondent, as well as other experiences, such as pet between corporal punishment and animal abuse
ownership history and pet loss. In an effort to elim- would be suspect if other forms of family violence
inate reportingsocially sanctioned behaviors, ques- were not taken into account. Two such variables-
tions specifically excluded killing for food (i.e., child abuse and violence between parents-were
farm animals intended for slaughter), hunting, and assessed. Child abuse was measured by asking re-
mercy killing. spondents whether their parents or stepparents
In addition, for each type of abuse, respondents ever kicked, punched, bit, choked them, attacked
were asked to report the type of animal involved, them with a weapon, or beat them up. This item
what was done to the animal, the number of sepa- was asked separately for each parent and for two
rate incidents, and their age when the cruelty first times-preteen and teen. Violence between parents
took place. was measured by asking respondents how often
during their entire childhood one parent ever hit
Corporal Punishment and Animal Cruelty 975

or threw something at the other parent. This was over 40% were between the ages of 6 and 12 years
asked twice, once for each parent. The response when they first perpetratedanimal cruelty. Nearly
categories were the same as those used with the 11% committed their first act when they were 2-5
corporalpunishmentitems. Responses ranged from years old. Half of the respondents who were cruel
never (0) to more than 20 times (6). to animals during their preteen years also abused
animals as teenagers. Thus, nearly two thirds of all
RESULTS perpetratorshad committed animal abuse as ado-
lescents. Most who had killed a stray or wild ani-
mal were in their teens, while those who had hurt
Descriptive Data on Animal Abuse
or tortured an animal or killed a pet were more
Nearly half of the sample-49%-had been ex- likely to have done so between the ages of 6 and
posed to animal abuse (either witnessed it or perpe- 12 years.
trated it). Animal cruelty had been perpetratedby Other than gender, few sociodemographic dif-
18% of the respondents, and almost 45% had wit- ferences emerged that distinguished perpetratorsof
nessed others abuse animals. The majority of those animal cruelty. Whites were somewhat more likely
who had perpetrated abuse had also witnessed it. to commit animal abuse than non-Whites-19%
As can be seen in Table 1, killing a stray and hurt- vs. 13%. Respondents with less-educated fathers
ing or torturingan animal to tease it or to cause it had higher rates of animal cruelty than those whose
pain were the most common acts of abuse. Sexu- fathers were more educated. About one third of re-
ally abusive acts were rare in this sample. spondents whose fathers had not completed high
The most likely victims of abuse were small
school had committed animal cruelty-about twice
animals (e.g., rodents, birds, reptiles), dogs, and
the rate of respondents with more-educatedfathers.
cats. Small animals, either strays or pets, were the
There were no differences based on mother's edu-
typical victims of respondentswho killed. The most cation or on father's occupation. Nearly 29% of re-
common methods of abuse were shooting and
direct physical aggression-hitting, beating, kick- spondents whose mothers had blue-collar jobs per-
petrated animal abuse. This was approximately
ing, or throwing an animal against a wall. Shooting twice the rate of respondents whose mothers held
tended to be employed for killing animals. Direct
white-collar occupations (15%) or those whose
physical aggression was more commonly used
when animals were hurt or tortured. mothers did not work outside the home (14%).
Most respondents had only perpetrated one
type of violence. Of the 47 respondents who had Gender Differences in
abused an animal, 33 (70%) had committed only
CommittingAnimal Cruelty
one kind of abuse. However, the majority had per-
petratedthat one type on more than one occasion. As expected, gender differences in animal abuse
Nearly half of the respondents (48%) were emerged. Males were significantly more likely to
teens when they first abused an animal. Slightly have committed animal cruelty than females. Over
one third of the males-35%-had inflicted abuse
on animals, compared with only 9% of females
(X2= 25.484, p = .001). Males were six times more
likely to have killed a stray animal, three times more
Type of likely to have hurtor torturedan animal, and nearly
Animal Cruelty Males Females Total
six times more likely to have killed a pet than
Killed strayor females.
wild animal 29.8 5.0 13.1 Males were much more likely to have been ex-
Hurtor tortured
animal 13.1 3.8 6.7 posed to animal abuse, in general, than females.
Killed pet 6.0 1.1 2.6 Two thirds of male respondents had either wit-
Touchedanimal nessed or perpetrated abusive acts against ani-
sexually 2.4 1.1 1.5 mals, but only 4 out of 10 females had witnessed
Performedsex acts
with animal 2.4 .6 1.1
or perpetrated animal abuse. Looking at this rela-
Perpetratedany tionship in another way, among females who had
animalcruelty 34.5 9.3 17.6 experienced animal abuse, three fourths had only
Note: For males, n = 84; For females, n = 182. Totaln = witnessed abuse; among the males, one out of two
267. abused animals.
976 Journal of Marriage and the Family


Total Sample Males Females

No Animal Animal No Animal Animal No Animal Animal

Cruelty Cruelty Cruelty Cruelty Cruelty Cruelty
Both parents 5.62 6.96* 5.92 7.68* 5.52 5.76
(3.24) (3.88) (3.32) (3.96) (3.22) (3.67)
Father 2.56 3.57** 2.93 4.10* 2.43 2.59
(2.02) (2.20) (2.03) (2.07) (2.02) (2.15)
Mother 3.05 3.43 2.96 3.68 3.07 3.18
(1.91) (2.07) (2.02) (2.09) (1.88) (2.04)
Note: For the total sample, n = 218 for the no animal cruelty group, and n = 47 for the animal cruelty group. For males, n =
54 for the no animal cruelty group, and n = 29 for the animal cruelty group. For females, n = 162 for the no animal cruelty
group, and n = 17 for the animalcruelty group.
*p < .05. **p < .005.

Frequency of Corporal However, when analyzed separately for each

Punishment and Animal Abuse gender, we see a more specific relationship. When
punishment scores from both parents are com-
Frequency of spanking-preteen. Table 2 presents bined, males who had perpetrated animal cruelty
the mean scores of preteen punishment from both had been spanked significantly more often than
parents together and for each parent individually males who had never been abusive to animals.
by animal abuse status. The means are given for Once again, this difference is accounted for by fa-
the overall sample and separately by gender. As thers' spanking. Males who committed abuse
hypothesized, those who had abused an animal against animals were spanked significantly more
had been punished significantly more frequently often by their fathers than those who had not com-
by their parents than respondents who had never mitted animal cruelty. Frequency of spanking by
abused animals. This difference in frequency ap- mothers was not related to sons' animal cruelty.
pears to be due to spanking by fathers. Respon- For females, there was no relationship between
dents who had been cruel to animals were physi- how often they were spanked-by both parents or
cally punished significantly more frequently by by either parent-and whether they abused animals.
their fathers than respondents who had not been In short, the relationship between the frequency
cruel to animals. There was no difference among of corporal punishment received and the perpetra-
the groups with regard to frequency of preteen tion of animal abuse held primarily for sons who
punishment by mothers. were spanked by their fathers.






0 4I I I I l

Never Once Twice 3-5 6 - 10 11 - 20 Over 20

Number of Times Spanked Before Age 13

-- MalesSpankedby Father --- MalesSpankedby Mother

--- FemalesSpankedby Father -- FemalesSpankedby Mother
Corporal Punishment and Animal Cruelty 977

Figure 1 illustrates the percentages of male and fathers. The relationship between receiving corpo-
female respondents committing animal cruelty for ral punishment as a teen and perpetrating animal
each category of spanking frequency from each abuse did not hold for males who were spanked as
parent. In general, for males spanked by their teens by their mothers. Being hit as a teenager by
fathers, the graph reveals a positive relationship either parentwas unrelatedto females' perpetration
between the frequency of spanking and the perpe- of animal cruelty.
tration of animal abuse. Nearly 60% of males who
received corporal punishment more than 20 times
Regression Analyses for Males
from their fathers had abused an animal. For males
hit by their mother, no real patternemerges, except Several bivariate analyses have revealed that cor-
that rates of animal cruelty rise at the upper end of poral punishment by fathers during both preteen
the frequency categories of physical punishment. and adolescent years is related to male children's
For females, the graph illustrates that the low rates cruelty to animals. Yet fathers who frequently hit
of animal cruelty are unrelated to the frequency of their sons also may either abuse their children or
receiving corporal punishment from either parent. hit their wives. If so, then frequent spanking and
children's cruelty to animals may more likely exist
Spanking as a teen. The distribution of frequency in violent homes. More frequent use of violence by
of teen spanking was highly skewed for both cor- fathersmay also be related to socioeconomic status.
poral punishment by fathers and mothers and for To control for these potentially confounding vari-
sons and daughters. As a result, spanked as a teen ables, a series of regression analyses was run to
was dichotomized as a yes-no variable. Table 3 predict animal cruelty by males. (Comparable re-
shows the relationship between receiving corporal gression analyses for females confirmed the results
punishment as a teenager and being cruel to an of the bivariate analyses showing no relationship
animal. between spanking and animal abuse and are not
For the entire sample, being hit as a teenager is presented here.) Because of the small number of
related to committing animal cruelty. Like previous male respondents who reported that they were
relationships, when the gender of the parent is con- abused by either parent (n = 14), child abuse was
sidered, perpetrating animal abuse is linked with operationalized as having been abused by either
being hit as a teen by the father, but not by the parent any time during childhood. Because fathers'
mother. Respondents who were hit as teenagers by hitting had emerged as central in the analysis, the
their fathers were nearly three times more likely variablefor parentalviolence was limited to whether
than those who were not hit to have committed ani- the respondents had ever seen their father hit or
mal cruelty. throw something at their mother. Descriptive data
When the gender of the child was examined, revealed that father's education, but not occupation,
the observed differences existed only for males was related to animal cruelty. Consequently, the
who were hit by their fathers. Nearly 60% of male 7-point education score was used and treated as a
respondentswho were physically punished as teens continuous variable.
by their fathers perpetrated animal abuse, com- Three multiple regression models were run. In
pared with 23% who were not hit as teens by their the first model, frequency of the father's spanking


PercentageWho PerpetratedAnimal Cruelty

Spankedby Spanked Spanked
Fatheror Mother by Father by Mother
Total sample Yes No Yes No Yes No
n (108) (153) (69) (194) (85) (179)
24.1* 13.1 33.3** 12.4 21.2 15.6
Males Yes No Yes No Yes No
n (35) (47) (28) (56) (26) (56)
45.7 25.5 57.1** 23.2 46.2 28.6
Females Yes No Yes No Yes No
n (72) (106) (40) (138) (59) (122)
12.5 7.6 15.0 8.0 10.2 9.0
*p<.05. **p<.005.
978 Journal of Marriage and the Family


Model 1 Model 2 Model 3

Variable b Beta b Beta b Beta
Father'sspanking-preteen .051 .222* - -.024 .104
Hit by fatheras teen - -.356 .354*** .314 .312**
Abused by parents -.053 -.041 -.091 -.070 -.010 -.076
Fatherhit mother .321 .230* .274 .196 .277 .198
Father'seducation -.067 -.225* -.091 -.304*** -.090 -.291**
Note: n = 80.
*p <.05. **p <.01. ***p <.005.

during preteen years was included with the con- DISCUSSION

trol variables. In the second model, whether the re-
spondent had been hit by his father as a teenager Exposure to the abusive treatmentof animals dur-
was entered. Both corporal punishment variables ing childhood was surprisingly widespread in this
were enteredin the final model. Thus, three separate sample of Southern undergraduatestudents. About
half of the respondents had witnessed or perpe-
regression analyses were run to examine the rela-
trated animal abuse. For male respondents, the in-
tionship between the father's use of corporal pun-
ishment and animal cruelty, using three control cidence was even higher-two thirds had been ex-
variables-whether the respondent had ever been posed to (had witnessed or perpetrated)some form
abused by either parent,whether his fatherhad ever of cruelty, and about one third had committed abu-
hit his mother, and father's education level. sive acts. The rates of exposure to animal abuse in
In Model 1, the frequency of the father's use of this study were similar to those reported by Miller
corporal punishment on the respondent as a pre- and Knutson (1997) in their study of Midwestern
adolescent was significantly related to the respon- college students. For example, in their study, 48%
dent's perpetrationof animal cruelty, after control- had witnessed or perpetratedanimal cruelty, com-
ling for otherfamily violence and father'seducation, pared with 49% in the study presented here. Ap-
F(4, 75) = 3.409, p = .01. Of these variables, only proximately 20% of respondents in each study had
child abuse was not related to committing animal committed some form of animal cruelty. In both
cruelty. The model explained approximately 15% studies, about one respondent in seven had killed a
of the variabilityin the dependentvariable. stray animal. Ten percent of Miller and Knutson's
The results from Model 2 indicate that being hit respondents and about 7% of the respondents in
as a teenager by one's father is significantly related this study had hurt or torturedan animal to tease it
to perpetratinganimal abuse, even after the covari- or to cause it pain. Approximately3% of respondents
ates are considered, F(4, 75) = 5.304, p = .0008. in both studies reportedthat they had killed a pet.
Among the control variables, only father's educa- The rate of animal abuse by males was almost
tional level reaches statisticalsignificance, although four times greaterthan that of females. This finding
father-to-motherviolence approaches significance was consistent with other studies linking males with
(p = .07). This model explained 22% of the vari- animal cruelty (Arluke & Luke, 1997; Miller &
ability in the perpetrationof animal abuse. Knutson, 1997). The socialization experience for
In Model 3, both spanking variables are entered male children emphasizes dominance and aggres-
into the model. Being spanked by one's father as a sion. Cruelty to animals may provide some males
teenager remains significant, but the frequency of the opportunity to rehearse these skills. Further,if
being spanked by one's father before the teen years males' cruelty is rewarded by peers (see Arluke &
is no longer related to animal cruelty. This is likely Luke) and if it is condoned or goes unpunished by
due to the relatively strong association of the two parentsor others, then masculine tendencies toward
spanking variables. Sons who were hit as teens by violence may be reinforcedfurther.
their fathers were punished significantly more fre- As suspected, a relationship between parent-
quently by fathers before adolescence than were to-child violence and animal abuse was uncovered.
sons who were never hit as teens by their fathers Respondents who had perpetrated animal abuse
(4.50 vs. 2.73, t = 3.94, p = .0002). With both cor- were physically punished more frequently before
poral punishment variables in the model, only 1% adolescence than those who had never abused an
of additional variability was explained, F(5, 74) = animal. This is particularly significant because the
4.408, p = .0014. relationship was found not for abusive violence
Corporal Punishment and Animal Cruelty 979

toward the preteen child, but for what many would support for male dominance and aggression used
term "ordinary"or "normal"violence, i.e., spank- against women, children, and animals.
ing. Equally important was the fact that this asso- If gender, empathy, and concern for animals are
ciation was found not among troubled youth or related, the findings presented here strongly imply
aggressive criminals, but among a nonclinical that the treatmentof animals may be importantfor
sample of college students. the development of empathy (Ascione, 1992, 1993)
Further analysis revealed that this relationship and thus for the future treatment of others. The
cannot be fully understood without considering the high rates of animal abuse by males could greatly
gender of both the parentand the child. Perpetrating inhibit the development of empathy in males.
animal abuse is linked to frequent punishment by Given that their socialization is less likely to focus
fathers of their sons, both before and during ado- on empathy and their structuralposition may make
lescence. It is male-to-male physical punishment it less necessary, males who also abuse animals
that increases the likelihood of animal abuse. This may find it difficult to show kindness and compas-
finding is consistent with prior clinical studies of sion toward humans. More specifically, inflicting
aggressive criminals and violent adolescents, abuse on animals may reinforce the link between
studies that found that harsh punishment by fathers physical punishment and wife beating (see Straus
was associated with male perpetrators of animal & Yodanis, 1996), not only by providing an oppor-
cruelty (Felthous & Kellert, 1986; Kellert & Felt- tunity to rehearse violence, but also by reducing
hous, 1985; Rigdon & Tapia, 1979; Tapia, 1971). men's ability to respond compassionately toward
Regression analyses of animal abuse by males their intimate partners. Only further research can
showed that the relationship between receiving unravel such relationships.
corporal punishment from fathers and inflicting The findings from this study reveal that animal
animal cruelty held, even after controlling whether abuse is another example of deviant behavior that
the sons had suffered abuse during childhood, frequent corporal punishment may foster. In addi-
whether they had witnessed their father hit their tion, the finding linking frequent spanking by
mother, and the level of the father's education. fathers with sons' abuse of animals is consistent
These results are important because they demon- with cultural spillover theory (Straus, 1991, 1994).
strate that the link between corporal punishment The more sons received culturally legitimate
and animal cruelty cannot be explained simply by physical punishment from their fathers, the more
pointing to other forms of violence in the family or likely they are to engage in socially unacceptable
to socioeconomic status. violence-namely, animal cruelty.
Given what we know about male socialization, In this study, receiving corporal punishment
corporal punishment, and animal abuse, this result from fathers as a teenager was also linked with
is not shocking. Males generally are expected to be sons' committing animal cruelty. Over half of male
more aggressive, males are physically punished teenagers who were hit by their fathers had perpe-
more frequently than females, and fathers are more trated animal abuse. The direction of the associa-
likely to hit sons than daughters (Day, Peterson, & tion is not clear. Certainly, being spanked as a
McCracken, 1998; Wauchope & Straus, 1990). teenager could not cause sons to commit animal
Fathers, however, are generally less involved in cruelty during their preadolescent years. However,
childrearingthan mothers. Further,males are more it could be that the early perpetration of animal
likely to perpetrate animal abuse than females. cruelty may contribute to a behavior pattern that
Taken together, the impact of corporal punishment elicits a physical disciplinary response from the
by fathers on sons may be greaterbecause it is po- father, even after the child has reached adoles-
tentially harsher,inflicted by the less-involved par- cence. Another possibility is that the relationship
ent, and it models a behavior-aggression-that between teen spanking by fathers and animal abuse
males are expected to emulate. for males may reflect an over-reliance on physical
Masculine socialization includes lessons of discipline by fathers throughout their sons' child-
dominance and aggression. Some boys who have hoods. In fact, males who were hit as teenagers by
been the victims of frequent corporal punishment their fathers also were punished significantly more
from more powerful others-parents, especially frequently by their fathers before adolescence than
fathers-may model this behavior in the abusive those who were not hit as teens. This may partially
treatmentof less powerful others-animals. Such a explain why being hit as a teenager was the strong-
phenomenon would fit with feminist analyses (e.g., est predictor in the regression model and why the
Adams, 1994) that identify patriarchal cultural frequency of the father's spanking before adoles-
980 Journal of Marriage and the Family

cence was no longer significant after being hit by Third, because the study was retrospective, it
the father as a teen was taken into account. seems likely that respondents forgot instances of
The combined psychological effects of being violence. This might be especially true for males,
both the recipient of violence from a parent and the given that violence is likely to have been a more
perpetratorof violence against an animal may not common experience for them.
only compound personality problems, but it may Fourth, how animal cruelty was defined, both
doubly reinforcethe instrumentaluse of violence. In conceptually and operationally, may have influ-
other words, males may learn that violence is appro- enced the findings. The definition included the in-
priate when they are physically hit by their fathers tentional maltreatmentof all types of animals (pets,
and when they get the chance to rehearse interper- strays, wild animals, and farm animals). Others
sonal violence on animals.As Veevers (1985) noted, have limited the scope to just companion animals
animal abuse may provide the training ground for and have incorporated unintentional behaviors as
violence in adult relationships. Research is needed well (e.g., Vermeulen & Odendaal, 1993). Perhaps
to examine the link between the perpetrationof ani- the abuse of companion animals should be exam-
mal abuse and futureinterpersonalviolence. ined apart from cruelty to noncompanion animals,
In addition, the findings provide supportfor the given the emotional relationship between human
notion of scapegoating described by DeViney et al. and pet and the dependent status of the companion
(1983) and Veevers (1985). Although the targets animal. Future studies should investigate this pos-
were not always pets, innocent and powerless ani-
sibility. In addition, respondents were not asked
mals were more likely to be abused by those who whether they defined their actions toward animals
were physically punished themselves. as cruel or abusive. It seems likely that certain acts
There are several limitations to the study. First,
may not have been perceived as cruel by some.
it is correlational in nature, making it difficult to The systematic investigation of the link be-
discern causality, as well as the direction of the re- tween family violence and animal abuse is a recent
lationship between violence toward children and and needed endeavor (Lockwood & Ascione,
animal abuse. It may be that violence toward ani-
1998). Discovering the mechanisms by which this
mals results in some children being spanked by
association operates would be a fruitful area of in-
their parents and not the other way around.Further,
these findings may reflect the fact that males are vestigation. Research on corporal punishment has
revealed negative psychological and behavioral
more likely to engage in deviant behavior, includ-
consequences, including a greater likelihood of
ing violence toward animals, and thus are more apt both approving of and engaging in interpersonal
to be physically punished. Either way, the combi-
violence (Straus, 1994). Now parent-to-child vio-
nation of perpetratinganimal cruelty and receiving
lence has been linked to animal cruelty. Future re-
corporalpunishment may provide a heightened op- search should examine the consequences of abus-
portunity for learning to approve of and engage in
violence and may compound negative develop- ing animals to see if many of the same emotional,
mental effects associated with both experiences. behavioral, and attitudinal outcomes associated
with spanking are also associated with animal
Second, because the sample is a convenience
abuse. If so and if animal cruelty tends to inhibit
sample of college students at a Southernuniversity,
the development of empathy, then its combination
generalizations must be made cautiously. Southern-
with frequent corporal punishment, particularly in
ers, in general, tend to have more favorable atti-
tudes toward spanking (Flynn, 1994), and Southern the case of fathers hitting sons, may seriously en-
college students, in particular, compared with danger both human and nonhuman animals.
Northeastern students, tend to have been spanked
more frequently and to view their own spankings NOTE
more favorably (Flynn, 1996). Southernersare also
This research was supported, in part, by a grant from the
more likely to be residents of rural areas, which
Teaching and Productive Scholarship Fund of the Uni-
could increase their chances of being around versity of South Carolina Spartanburg.The author would
animals (and thus animal abuse) and decrease their like to thank Barbara Boat for furnishing a copy of the
chances of being exposed to information about cor- Boat Inventory on Animal-Related Experiences and
Karla Miller and John Knutson for providing their ques-
poral punishment or animal abuse. It may be that tionnaire adaptation of that inventory. The author also
both corporal punishment and animal cruelty are
gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Jill Jones
characteristicof a region where there is strong ap- and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful com-
proval of violence (Baron & Straus, 1988). ments on earlier versions of this article.
Corporal Punishment and Animal Cruelty 981

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