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The Nurture Lab

Investigating the role of family and school in children’s socio-emotional development and mental health whilst considering the interplay of genetics and experience.

The Nurture Lab conducts interdisciplinary research to better understand the role of children’s family and school experiences for development.

Our work uses approaches from family and school psychology, intervention, behavioural genetics, and machine learning. We address questions such as:

  • How do family dynamics influence socio-emotional development?
  • How can schools and families work together to improve children’s mental health and wellbeing?
  • What part do genetics play in children’s experience?
  • How can we advance our methodologies to diversify and expand family research and practice?
  • Why do interventions work for some and not others?
  • How can AI/machine learning approaches help broaden reach of research and intervention? 
Lab members

Directors

Current and associate members

  • Dr Liz Halstead, UCL IOE
  • Dr Rachel Latham, King’s College London
  • Dr Patty Leijten, University of Amsterdam
  • Dr Emma Meaburn, Birkbeck, University of London
  • Dr Katie Mark, King’s College London
  • Professor Alison Pike, University of Sussex
  • Dr Matt Somerville, UCL IOE

PhD students

  • Pinar Acet
  • Abigail Burgess
  • Nisa Rainy (Bloomsbury studentship: Birkbeck, Meaburn & Oliver)
  • Abigail Thomson (ERSC: Queen Mary University of London, Hosang & Oliver)
  • Elise Sellars (ESRC: University of Oxford; Bowes & Oliver)

Researchers

  • Georgia Cronshaw
  • Sarah Dolaty          
  • Susie Peters
  • Meghan Pick 
  • Olivia Riddle
  • Michelle Sargent     
  • Teresa Yung

Alumni

  • Alex Martin
  • Laura Farley
  • Zelal Gulbahce
  • Grace Hill
  • Celestine Lockhart
  • Maria Sifaki
  • Lily Strange
Key collaborations
Research projects

Selected projects

Twins Family and Behaviour Study (TFaB)

Bonamy Oliver and Alison Pike

TFaB is a four-year longitudinal research study of young twins born in 2009-2010, exploring children's famly relationships, psychological adjustment and mental health. Data were collected between 2012-2017. Over this four-year period (child ages 3-6 years), participating mothers and fathers each completed two questionnaires, a telephone interview, and an online parent-child interactive game. Secondary analyses opportunities are available. Please contact b.oliver@ucl.ac.uk if you are interested

The ESO System

Bonamy Oliver

Decades of research supports the crucial role of parent/carer-child relationships from cradle to grave, relating them to psychological adjustment and health. Parent-child relationships are a core construct included in most influential studies of health and development, but typically self-reports are relied on, due to a scarcity of rigorous, scalable ways to objectively assess them. Oliver’s ongoing work aims to provide the means to measure these relationships at scale, in detail and across ages. Oliver’s open resource has been twice shortlisted for its impact for research and practice by the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (2021; 2022).

Contextualising and learning in mental health support (CALMS)

Emily Midouhas and Bonamy Oliver

CALMS is a mobile application parents can use to track their parenting behaviour alongside their child’s behaviour using ecological momentary assessment and then see emerging patterns in their family dynamics. We aim to collect CALMS data from families receiving treatment from CAMHS to uncover mechanisms of change whilst in treatment. We also aim to pilot test the feasibility of CALMS in a subclinical sample of families and hope to build on this work to determine its potential for augmentation of parenting behaviour due to increased self-awareness.

Co-developing an emotion beliefs intervention

Matt Somerville and Bonamy Oliver

Children and young people’s well-being has declined significantly since the pandemic began. We aim to implement a school-based psychological intervention which equips young people with the necessary knowledge and skills to improve their emotional well-being and support them during transition from primary to secondary school. The intervention design will be a collaborative process, developed alongside students, teachers and parents. Currently, we are working with a large secondary school in South London to better understand the key issues associated with school transitions and further develop our ideas to ensure the intervention would be both informed by research evidence and suit the specific needs of the school and community.

Other ongoing projects

  • Access to mental health services in population cohorts - Emily Midouhas and Bonamy Oliver
  • Adapting a brief parenting intervention for use in the UK - Bonamy Oliver and Patty Leijten
  • Mindful parenting: parent and child perspectives - Pinar Acet and Bonamy Oliver
  • Headspace for parents - Abigail Burgess and Bonamy Oliver
  • Polygenic scores for psychopathology - Nisa Rainy, Emma Meaburn and Bonamy Oliver
  • Emotion dysregulation as a transdiagnostic mechanism for mental health - Abigail Thomson, Georgina Hosang and Bonamy Oliver
Free, validated method for collecting family interactions online

The ‘Etch-a-Sketch Online’ (ESO; Oliver & Pike, 2019) task is a methodology that allows the collection of parent-child interactions online, without the need for home- or lab-visits. ESO was validated and published three months before the first UK COVID-19 lockdown.

Predicated on a long tradition of structured-play observations, the original rationale for designing ESO was two-fold. First, we were looking to address the need to better understand family relationships with detailed assessments suitable for large-scale studies. Until ESO, because resources are limited, studies that have such detail tend to lack power, and studies that have power tend to lack nuance.

Second, even if we overcome the problem of resource-need to enable detailed face-to-face assessment at scale, travel to and from numerous family homes is no longer ecologically viable or ethical. 
 
ESO is available wherever there is internet (the site allows translation into numerous languages), and is very flexible. It can be used with different stimuli, coding schemes, and interaction times, as well as different participants (e.g., parents and children, siblings, peers).

So far, it has been used with children aged from three- to 12-years old, within both clinically-relevant and non-clinical settings, with various stimuli and coding schemes.

There are two versions of the task:

ESO

Prototype version. This version has validation data (Oliver & Pike, 2019). However please note that this version cannot be used with touch-screen devices.

ESO-II

The second version of ESO is a more flexible version of the task. ESO II does NOT have validation data but can be used on touch-screen and non-touch screen devices. Note that the functionality of ESO II has been kept as similar to the original validated ESO tool as possible.

The site will:

  • Allow use on a keyboard, touchscreen, or mobile, and will resize for screen size. 
  • Allow idiosyncratic drawing stimuli to be uploaded, ensuring the task is able to adapt to user need.