University of Leicester
2023HamiltonJDclinpsy.pdf (9.11 MB)

Adversity, Alexithymia, and Empathy Among Ex-Boarding Students: A Comparison with Ex-Day Students and General Population Samples

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posted on 2023-11-30, 16:34 authored by Jackie A. Hamilton

Significant distress during childhood is thought to increase the vulnerability of experiencing mental health difficulties in later life. The notion of childhood adversity has received international attention, with Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) being found to have a detrimental impact on an individual’s physical and psychological well-being.

Literature Review

Ten articles exploring the prevalence of ACEs among university students in the UK were subjected to a systematic and meta-analysis. Pooled prevalence for number of ACEs was 55.4% (95% CI: 32.4% - 78.4%) for one or more, and 31.6% (7.5% - 55.6%) for three or more, suggesting that a substantial proportion of university students in the UK may have been exposed to adversity during their childhood. Significant heterogeneity was observed between studies for most categories of adversity, and it was not possible to explain or reduce this variance by removal of small numbers of influential/discrepant studies. Further analyses suggested potential influences of measurement tool used, country of data collection, and age and sex of participants, although conclusions must be tentative given potential confounds.

Empirical Research

This study explored ACEs and emotional processing skills among UK adults who previously boarded at school, compared with day students who attended schools at which boarding was an option, and general population samples. A total of 285 participants (187 ex-boarding and 98 ex-day students) completed an online survey. Compared to general population samples, ex-boarding students demonstrated a higher prevalence of adversity and alexithymia, and lower empathy. Minimal differences were found between ex-boarders and ex-day students; however, there were suggestions that differences in emotional processing skills may differ for males and females, raising the possibility that boarding may affect males and females differently. Furthermore, relationships between emotional neglect and emotional processing skills were found, alongside indications of potentially different impacts of emotional neglect depending on sex and ex-boarding/day status. These findings have important potential implications for schools, parents, policy makers, and clinicians working with ex-boarders.



Alice Welham; Gareth Morgan

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Psychology & Vision Sciences

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • DClinPsy



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