IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


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


Current and Former Contributing Members

  • Professor Alison Pike, University of Sussex

PhD students


  • Sarah Dolaty          
  • Laura Farley                       
  • Zelal Gulbahce
  • Grace Hill                             
  • Celestine Lockhart           
  • Meghan Pick 
  • Michelle Sargent               
  • Lily Strange                        
  • Abigail Thomson
  • Teresa Yung
Key collaborations
Research projects

TFaB: The Twins, Families and Behaviour Study

Originally run as part of the Nurture Lab when it was based in Sussex (2012-2017), TFaB is a longitudinal twin study. The study helps us to explore children’s behaviour and family relationships with the help of around 300 families with twins born in 2009/2010 across the UK. Over a four year period, participating parents kindly completed questionnaires, a telephone interview, and a parent-child interactive game online. We have published some findings already, and still have lots to learn from this data.
With the help of TFaB families, we designed a new methodology that provides researchers and practitioners the means to study family relationships in depth. This methodology allows us to ‘visit’ families in their own homes, without the need for real home visits. When we designed the methodology, we had no idea how pertinent it would prove to be for 2020 and beyond. 

Headspace for parents

Led by PhD student, Abigail Burgess, and funded by the ESRC, this project focuses on a popular self-directed health app, Headpace, which supports and bolsters mindfulness and sleep.

For the first time, the project considers Headspace as a support for parents, aiming to improve their ability to cope with stress, and as a consequence improve their children’s wellbeing. We also focus on understanding the specific components of the app that are shown to be useful.

Mindful parenting: parent and child perspectives

Led by PhD student, Pinar Acet and funded by the Ministry of National Education, Republic of Turkey, this project is focused on mindful parenting skills that occur during child-parent interaction.

Pinar aims to identify the determinants of mindful parenting and to understand how children’s perceptions of the mindful parenting skills of their parents associates with their well-being.

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:


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


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.








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