Predicting the use of corporal punishment: Child aggression, parent religiosity, and the BDNF gene

Reut Avinun*, Maayan Davidov, David Mankuta, Ariel Knafo-Noam

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Corporal punishment (CP) has been associated with deleterious child outcomes, highlighting the importance of understanding its underpinnings. Although several factors have been linked with parents’ CP use, genetic influences on CP have rarely been studied, and an integrative view examining the interplay between different predictors of CP is missing. We focused on the separate and joint effects of religiosity, child aggression, parent's gender, and a valine (Val) to methionine (Met) substitution in the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene. Data came from a twin sample (51% male, aged 6.5 years). We used mothers’ and fathers’ self-reports of CP and religiosity, and the other parent's report on child aggression. Complete data were available for 244 mothers and their 466 children, and for 217 fathers and their 409 children. The random split method was employed to examine replicability. For mothers, only the effect of religiosity appeared to replicate. For fathers, several effects predicting CP use replicated in both samples: child aggression, child sex, religiosity, and a three-way (GxExE) interaction implicating fathers’ BDNF genotype, child aggression and religiosity. Religious fathers who carried the Met allele and had an aggressive child used CP more frequently; in contrast, secular fathers’ CP use was not affected by their BDNF genotype or child aggression. Results were also repeated longitudinally in a subsample with age 8–9 data. Findings highlight the utility of a bio-ecological approach for studying CP use by shedding light on pertinent gene-environment interaction processes. Possible implications for intervention and public policy are discussed.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)165-175
Number of pages11
JournalAggressive Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  • child aggression
  • corporal punishment
  • gene-environment interaction
  • religiosity
  • the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene


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