The Impact of Early Experiences on Empathy and Emotion Regulation Development: Markers of Vulnerability and Resilience

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Amber Newell
Submitted: September 2021


Experiencing maltreatment in childhood can have detrimental and long-term effects on a child’s development. Maltreatment is the main reason for children to be removed from their family settings and to be looked after by alternative caregivers. Research has demonstrated that even after removal from the maltreating context, many children continue to experience persistent socioemotional difficulties. Less is known about the impact of maltreatment on children’s development of empathy and emotion regulation (ER) specifically and the ways that alternative caregiving protects against negative effects of maltreatment. Empathy and ER are key competencies that underpin a wide variety of other socioemotional skills. This thesis presents two related studies. Firstly, a systematic literature review was conducted to consider the literature exploring the impact of alternative caregiving on ER development. Eight studies were included that compared ER between children with and without experiences of maltreatment and subsequent transition to alternative care arrangements. Half of the studies concluded that maltreatment is associated with significantly less ER and an additional two studies found similar, but non-significant results. There are very few studies that have this focus, highlighting a need for further research. Secondly, empathy was assessed in 27 school-age adopted children with a history of maltreatment and compared with empathy measured with 72 non-adopted, non-maltreated children who live with their biological parents. It was hypothesised that maltreatment would have a negative impact on empathy development resulting in the adopted children scoring lower on empathy measures. It was also hypothesised that caregiver and child empathy would be associated and that this relationship would be moderated by maltreatment (group) status. The findings were that adopted children scored lower on parent-report questionnaire and behavioural measures of empathy. There were significant associations between parent and child measures of empathy, but maltreatment status did not significantly moderate this association. Taken together, both studies identify difficulties maltreated children have even within a context of adoption and fostering with empathy and emotion regulation development. The implications of this are discussed broadly and more specifically related to an educational psychology context.

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The Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) Programme: Can you develop an evidence base for an adaptive intervention? (2019)

Authors: Leanne Pickering, Joanne Lambeth and Colin Woodcock
Published: 2019
Publication: DECP Debate

This article considers different aspects of the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant Programme. Specifically, it critiques the evidence base for the intervention and discusses issues relating to the adaptability of the programme..

Pickering, L., Lambeth, J. & Woodcock, C. (2019) The Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) Programme: Can you develop an evidence base for an adaptive intervention? DECP Debate, 170, 17-22.

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The Relationship Between Emotional Regulation, Language Skills, and Internalising and Externalising Difficulties in Adolescence

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Jessica Butcher
Submitted: June 2015


Internalising and externalising difficulties are associated with negative outcomes for young people, such as school refusal, school exclusion, educational underachievement, and mental health problems in adulthood. It is therefore important to find ways to support young people with such difficulties. Difficulties in emotional regulation (ER) and language difficulties are reported to be associated with internalising and externalising difficulties in children and young people. However, there has only been a limited amount of research in this area and previous studies were subject to methodological limitations. This thesis had two aims: firstly, to explore the associations between ER strategies and adolescent mental health problems. This issue was examined in a systematic literature review which found that ER strategies were related to internalising and externalising difficulties in adolescents. However, the review highlighted the lack of research in this area, particularly in relation to externalising difficulties. Secondly, the empirical study described in this thesis explored the role of ER strategies and expressive language skills in young people and their associations with internalising and externalising difficulties. Fifty-five participants completed a range of measures exploring their expressive language abilities, use of ER strategies, and an experimental frustration task examining emotional reactivity, recovery and intensity. It was found that the language measures were not associated with internalising or externalising difficulties. However, there was a tentative suggestion that functional language skills may increase adaptive ER strategies and reduce non-adaptive ER strategies. Internalising difficulties were strongly associated with non-adaptive cognitive ER strategies following stress, whereas externalising difficulties were strongly associated with fewer adaptive ER strategies. Emotional intensity during frustration was related to both internalising and externalising difficulties. Conclusions and implications for educational practice are discussed.

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