Oct 02 2009

Spanking, Hyenas, and Intelligence

Published by at 9:00 am under critical thinking,science

I must have woke on the wrong side of happy this morning. Get ready for some grumbling over perhaps picayune matters. Both of the following reports on science findings strike me as being too general. But in different regards.

1) Hyenas cooperate, problem-solve better than primates

Hyenas cooperate better than we do? If they problem-solve better than chimpanzees and other non-human primates, does that make them more intelligent?

Here’s the data collected/generated -

Captive pairs of spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) that needed to tug two ropes in unison to earn a food reward cooperated successfully and learned the maneuvers quickly with no training.

Intriguing finding, yes. But clearly this is a case of taking an inch of data and concluding a mile with it. Perhaps the hyenas abilities are very task-specific. And thus they are not generally better than primates at problem-solving or even cooperating.

2) Children who are spanked have lower IQs, new research finds

While the conclusion in this title is likely true, I’m not sure about the strength of the data — too general — nor the causal inferences. When the variables are general, it’s easy for confounding elements to get mixed in.

Here’s the data –

Straus and Mallie Paschall, senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, studied nationally representative samples of 806 children ages 2 to 4, and 704 ages 5 to 9. Both groups were retested four years later.

Nationally representative children were tested, leading to this conclusion –

Straus found that children in the United States who were spanked had lower IQs four years later than those who were not spanked.

Mind you, there is some relatively good research out there on spanking that leads me to believe that there could be a causal link between spanking and intelligence. Could be. (See my recent post, Better Science on Spanking).

More data –

Straus also found a lower national average IQ in nations in which spanking was more prevalent. His analysis indicates the strongest link between corporal punishment and IQ was for those whose parents continued to use corporal punishment even when they were teenagers.

Comparing statistics between nations and drawing a conclusion is fraught with difficulty. A nation as a variable is far too general. Differences between nations are simply too numerous and complex to take any findings from these type of studies without a massive grain of salt.

To settle the above, I propose an experiment in which the intelligence of spanked hyenas is compared with that of non-spanked hyenas.

I told you I woke up on the wrong side of happy.


3 Comments to “Spanking, Hyenas, and Intelligence”

  1. [...] Andrew’s site, his attack on the charge of scientism is among the several other really great posts worth reading [...]

  2. Sharon McEachernon 14 Oct 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Did you know that Sweden is celebrating its 30-year national ban on spanking. It’s against the law in Sweden, the very first country to ban smacking children. Since 1979, when the Swedes started the children’s rights movement, 24 nations have joined them with laws banning corporal punishment of children. Sadly, the United States is not one of them. Ethic Soup blog has a good post on this at:


    More on those 24 countries where spanking is against the law is at:


  3. [...] Andrew’s site, his attack on the charge of scientism is among the several other really great posts worth reading [...]

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