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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Looking ahead rather than behind: exploring the future perspectives and resilience of adolescents who have experience of parental imprisonment

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Catherine Goodchild
Submitted: June 2018


Adolescence is a period of development when young people begin to prepare for transition from childhood into adulthood creating an increased focus on future potential and aspirations. A systematic review of the international literature was conducted, exploring the relationship between adolescent outcomes and two key areas of future perception studies, future orientation and possible selves. 18 articles were identified and subsequently organised by grouping in relation to school, home and personal factors. Research was conducted cross-culturally and often focussed on at-risk populations related to ethnicity, however only two studies extended to the UK population. A number of quantitative studies suggest a relationship exists between adolescent future orientation and a variety of positive outcomes, as well as acting as a protective factor against negative outcomes, e.g. risk-taking behaviours. Participants’ perspectives were rarely explored through qualitative research, with only two papers included. Limitations include methodological design, leading to calls for more robust research in this area.

The empirical paper (Chapter 2) adopted a qualitative design and explored the future perceptions of children of imprisoned parents. This population have been referred to as ‘silent victims’ in the literature and are suggested to be at risk of multiple negative outcomes, including disruption to relationships, stigmatisation and increased risk of engaging in socially undesirable behaviours. The current study gathered the future perspectives of children of imprisoned parents, as well as their resilience factors including sources of strength and support from their past and present experiences. Five participants, aged 9-12 years were interviewed using semi-structured interviews and a ‘life path’ drawing activity. Deductive thematic analysis identified six overall themes: experience of having a parent in prison, social support, individual coping strategies, beliefs about the future, strategies to reach future goals and potential barriers to reaching future goals. Implications for practice were discussed in light of the heterogeneous nature of the findings and concluded that professionals should consider a bespoke approach to intervention, ensuring children are kept at the forefront of decision-making. Calls for future research included further qualitative studies to explore how children of imprisoned parents construct their own identities, which could be triangulated with data such as the voice of siblings and wider family members.

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University of Southampton Psychology Post Graduate Research Conference – posters

The Southampton PGR conference concluded today – the ninth psychology conference but the very first to be carried out online. We were delighted by (and very proud of) the contributions of the Ed Psych Trainees to the conference, which included Year 2 research posters, Year 3 thesis presentations and two members of the Year 2 cohort – Sophie Smith and Amber Newell – sitting on the four person conference planning committee (and what an incredible job they did under these exceptional circumstances).

Please find below the Ed Psych SSRP research posters. These are:

  • EBSA (Emotionally Based School Avoidance) Professionals’ Perception of Group Supervision by Lauren Baggley, Beckett Markland, Amber Newell, Cora Sargeant and Andrea Morgan.
  • Emotional Literacy Support Assistants’ (ELSAs) experiences of the Resilience Ball Framework in Schools by Lindsay Elder, Alex Hampstead, Cara Hens, Cath Lowther and Hanna Kovshoff.
  • Non-statutory Educational Psychology Reports: Views of Key Stakeholders by Louise Boeckmans, Husna Kasmani, Kirsty Russell, Sophie Smith, Liz Robinson, Caitriona Scully and Cora Sargeant.
  • Exploring the Views and Experiences of Adolescents with ADHD in Mainstream Schools by Stephanie Lewis, Lynn de la Fosse, Derek Hanley, Tammy Valberg and Hanna Kovshoff – Awarded third prize in the conference poster competition.

Looked After Children’s experience of a group intervention to promote resilience

Assignment type: Research Project (Small Scale Research Project, Year 1)
Authors: Chantelle Zilli, Rebecca Neudegg, Eleanor Hayes, Ed Sayer and Hanna Kovshoff
Submitted: Spring 2017

The objective of this study was to understand children’s experience of a therapeutic programme designed to build resilience in Children Looked After (CLA), aged 8 to 12 years old. Researchers show that compared to the general population, CLA are at risk of poor outcomes such as mental health difficulties (McAuley & Davis, 2009), low academic achievement (O’Sullivan & Westerman, 2007) and youth offending behaviour (Jonson-Reid & Barth, 2000). This may be due to adverse experiences both pre-care and within the care system which are associated with poor social, emotional and educational development in CLA (Sempik, Ward, & Darker, 2008; Ward, 2009). It is therefore important to develop interventions which remediate these risks. Continue reading

At what level should schools be working to develop resilience and promote emotional wellbeing in children and young people?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Laura Harris
Submitted: May 2011

Recent reports suggest that the wellbeing of children living in the UK is significantly poorer than other high income countries.  This is despite the fact that the children of today’s society receive better education, and have more possessions and better homes than ever before.  For a number of years, researchers have attempted to identify protective factors that have enabled children to thrive when faced with difficult circumstances.  It is thought that these protective factors help to unlock a child’s innate resilience and promote emotional wellbeing.  Research which has identified these protective factors has led to the creation of school-based programmes, aimed at developing these skills in children and young people.  This paper explores whether schools should implement programmes which target specific at-risk groups using targeted prevention approaches, or employ universal prevention programmes which encompass all children.  The evidence suggests that schools should employ targeted programmes, as these are currently supported by empirical evidence which is methodologically and theoretically sound.  The evidence also suggests that whilst a number of researchers claim that universal programmes will benefit all children, studies of their effectiveness to date, are largely based on teacher reports.  It is important to address this issue in order to gain a better understanding of the most effective and efficient ways of ensuring positive outcomes for children and young people.  Thus, efforts to promote resilience and emotional wellbeing in schools must be evidence-based.  Future research needs to determine the most effective combination of universal and targeted intervention programmes.

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