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Parental corporal punishment and children’s executive functions in Chinese migrant families: The mediating role of child anxiety


Although disadvantages of parental corporal punishment are well documented, little is known about the effects of parental corporal punishment on children’s cognitive development in Chinese migrant families and the potential emotional mechanisms. The present longitudinal study investigated the effects of both maternal and paternal corporal punishment on children’s executive functions and whether these effects would be mediated by child anxiety in Chinese migrant families. Three hundred and twenty-eight elementary school-aged children and both their mothers and fathers completed the measures at three time points, half a year apart. Parental corporal punishment and child anxiety were assessed by mother-, father-, and child-report. Children’s executive functions were assessed by mother- and father-report. Structural equation modeling revealed that neither maternal nor paternal corporal punishment significantly predicted migrant children’s executive functions one year later, after controlling for the stability of children’s executive functions. Moreover, child anxiety mediated the effect of maternal but not paternal corporal punishment on children’s executive functions. No significant children’s sibling status differences in the mediating model were found. The findings highlight the importance of considering the emotional mechanisms in cognitive outcomes of migrant children who experience parental corporal punishment, and provide intervention suggestions for parenting behaviors to improve children’s developmental outcomes.

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The dataset generated and analyzed during the current study is available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We are grateful to all the children, parents, and teachers who participated or contributed to this project.


This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NO. 31800939).

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Authors and Affiliations



Li Liu: Conceptualization, Formal analysis, Methodology, Writing—original draft, Writing—review& editing, Project administration; Shuchang Ren: Data curation, Methodology, Writing—original draft; Pengyun Huang: Data curation, Methodology, Writing—original draft; Xiaopei Xing: Conceptualization, Methodology, Writing—original draft, Supervision.

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Correspondence to Li Liu.

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This research was approved by the Institutional Review Board of Shandong Normal University.

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All individual participants included in this research provided informed consent.

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On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

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Liu, L., Ren, S., Huang, P. et al. Parental corporal punishment and children’s executive functions in Chinese migrant families: The mediating role of child anxiety. Curr Psychol (2022).

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  • Parental corporal punishment
  • Child anxiety
  • Executive functions
  • Chinese migrant children