How punishment can affect health
By Jordan Riak, June 2009
"The future of any society depends on its ability to foster the healthy development of the next generation. Extensive research on the biology of stress now shows that healthy development can be derailed by excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body (especially the brain), with damaging effects on learning, behavior, and health across the lifespan." *
When the mammalian brain anticipates danger, it triggers a cascade of
responses. First, the hypothalamus secretes the corticotropin-releasing
hormone (CRH), stimulating the pituitary to produce corticotropin (ACTH).
The ACTH causes the adrenal glands to release cortisol and epinephrine. The
cortisol helps maintain energy-producing blood sugar, while the epinephrine
increases heart and breathing rates, sending extra blood to the limbs. These
changes give the body a rapid energy boost to help protect itself against
imminent danger. As the threat subsides, the organism tends to return to its
Exposure to long-term stress can have a very different effect. It
can produce chronic and debilitating symptoms such as: memory loss, weakened
immune system, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, skin problems, weight
gain and digestive disorders. The process is essentially the same whether
it involves a laboratory rat being subjected to an on-going regimen of
electric shocks or a child living in fear of punishment.
Prolonged exposure to stress hormones on a child's developing brain can
permanently compromise the brain's ability to regulate emotion, aggression,
attention and cognition.