Scott, Matthew

Matthew Scott
Start date:
October 2020
Research Topic:
Empathy development in children with socio-emotional and behavioural difficulties - building empathic understanding through a music-based intervention
Research pathway:
Research Supervisor:
Professor Stephanie van Goozen
Supervising school:
School of Psychology,
Primary funding source:
ESRC Studentship

Many children with socio-emotional and behavioural difficulties do not receive adequate support during key phases of development. Cardiff’s Neurodevelopment Assessment Unit (NDAU) aims to assess children with a range of developmental problems, with the dual aim of;

a) feeding back information on the child’s specific profile of strengths and difficulties – to enhance referring agents’ propensity to offer effective support;
b) building up an extensive pool of data, illuminating the neurophysiological and biological mechanisms that underlie different neurodevelopmental problems.

The NDAU operates within the National Institute of Mental Health’s Research Domain Criteria Initiative (RDoC). It takes a trans-diagnostic approach to research and intervention, focusing on the interplay between key underlying domains of human functioning (cognitive, social, regulatory, sensorimotor, positive/negative valence) and the way differences within these systems are expressed and measurable at multiple levels (e.g. physiological, behavioural, self-report, neural circuitry).

One key construct spanning these domains and relevant to a range of socio-emotional and behavioural difficulties is empathy. Empathy is a multi-faceted construct, but is broadly defined as the ability to share in and understand others’ experiences and emotions vicariously. Difficulties with different aspects of empathy are associated with certain traits and certain functions within the RDoC’s core domains. Previous and ongoing research within the NDAU has centred on detangling this intricate web, to make important contributions to the research base and inform more efficacious interventions.

This research will aim to contribute to this progress, with the ultimate goal of offering a targeted and flexible music-based intervention for children with specific empathy difficulties. Music has potential with this group as a rewarding, affectively arousing and emotionally informative base from which to build socially-relevant empathic skills for those who may struggle to do so without support.

At present, the research has the following objectives;

  • To explore – drawing on available data and using multiple methodologies – the nature of children with behavioural and socio-emotional problems’ empathic difficulties;
  • To design and implement a music-based intervention with this group – measuring qualitative and quantitative change in empathy, and ongoing socially-situated change in socio-emotional and behavioural outcomes;
  • To add to and develop theory regarding the nature of empathic difficulties across this heterogenous group;
  • To make recommendations as to the potential for music-based empathy intervention with this group.