Research in Plain English – Nikki Luke

Nikki Luke is a doctoral researcher in psychology. Her work focuses on the effects of parenting on children’s social and emotional well-being. This is a very relevant topic, especially given the recent announcements from government indicating a greater investment in addressing the needs of disadvantaged families. Nikki blogs at


Government figures from 2011 show that there were 65,520 children in care in England – 54% for abuse/neglect. While the Every Child Matters programme shows that the well-being of ‘looked after children’ is a Governmental priority, current assessments only provide an overview of how they are faring.

Previous research suggests that children who have been abused or neglected are at risk of poorer peer reputations and more negative self-perceptions. However, existing research has little to say about the effects that children’s individual perceptions about their parenting experiences might have on their social and emotional well-being.

My research takes a two-pronged approach. Firstly, I make comparisons between looked after children and their classmates at school, using measures that give information about their peer reputations and self-perceptions. Secondly, I also ask our larger sample of (non-looked after) schoolchildren about their parenting experiences, in an attempt to identify the key parenting dimensions that might influence children’s peer reputations and self-perceptions.

I am also interested in identifying the cognitive, affective and behavioural mechanisms that might explain the link between children’s parenting experiences and their socio-emotional well-being. In particular, I am interested in the effect that abusive or neglectful parenting might have on the development of children’s social understanding (understanding that other people can have different thoughts, desires and beliefs) and empathy (responding emotionally to someone else’s emotional state). My work tests a mediational model, in which I propose that parenting experiences can affect the development of children’s social understanding and empathy, which in turn affects their reputation with peers and their self-perceptions. My PhD consists of a programme of five related studies, examining this model from the points of view of foster carers, peers, and the children themselves.

If you would like to share your research with the Sussex Research community, let us have a couple of paragraphs about your work in an email to, with an image to illustrate your work if appropriate. We will do the rest.


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