Associations between Childhood Maltreatment and Peer Relationships: the Role of Empathy, 2020-2021

Hanley, Derek and Newell, Amber and Golm, Dennis and Kreppner, Jana and Morente-Caro, Carmen (2022). Associations between Childhood Maltreatment and Peer Relationships: the Role of Empathy, 2020-2021. [Data Collection]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Service. 10.5255/UKDA-SN-855445

Data description (abstract)

In the literature, it has been well-established that children who have experienced maltreatment are at greater risk of impaired social development. Research also shows that, relative to non-maltreated peers, physically abused or neglected young children are more vulnerable to peer relation difficulties. This susceptibility is of concern, not only as there is preliminary evidence to suggest that positive peer relations can act as a potential protective factor, but also peer rejection is a known risk factor for poor adjustment in adolescence and adulthood. Taken together, peer relationships appear to be critical contexts for development and are likely important mediators or moderators of development and adjustment for children who have been maltreated. One psychological ability believed to be implicated in the developmental trajectory of maltreated children is empathy and it has been posited that it may act as a potential mediator between childhood maltreatment and problematic peer relations. To explore this association, this study used online adult-report questionnaires to collect data from parents of adopted children with a history of maltreatment and children living with their biological parents without such a history (6-11 years of age). Scales included a parent-report measure of child empathy and a parent-report measure on the quality of children’s peer relations. Further data was also collected from a sub-sample of children who completed additional behavioural measures of empathy and a peer relationships measure. Findings show that maltreated children scored significantly lower on parent-report measures of empathy and scored significantly higher on parent-report peer relationship problems than non-maltreated children. The behavioural data showed similar group level differences for child empathy, however, no differences were found for child-report peer relations. In terms of the proposed mediational model, empathy was found to mediate the relationship between maltreatment and poor peer relations. These findings are encouraging as they suggest that interventions that target empathy may help maltreated children to enjoy more positive and satisfying relationships with their peers.

Data creators:
Creator Name Affiliation ORCID (as URL)
Hanley Derek University of Southampton
Newell Amber University of Southampton
Golm Dennis University of Southampton
Kreppner Jana University of Southampton
Morente-Caro Carmen University of Southampton
Sponsors: Economic and Social Research Council
Topic classification: Psychology
Date published: 28 Jan 2022 17:17
Last modified: 28 Jan 2022 17:17

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