Dr Amy Orben
Research Fellow, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit
Fellowship intermission until 1 June 2021
I was born in London to German parents, and spent my childhood in the United States, so an explanation of where I – and my accent – originate from is a real challenge. My academic origins are equally difficult to plot. In 2012, my long-held affinity to the sciences and mathematics brought me to Cambridge to read for an undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences. After studying Physics, Maths and Biology in my first year, I found my academic home when, on something of a whim, I chose Experimental Psychology as one of my second-year options. Sitting in my psychology lectures, I was instantly attracted by the application of rigorous scientific methodology to something as complicated as the human mind.
When working on my final-year undergraduate project, I realised that my experiences as a teenager who had grown up using social media were not represented accurately in the scientific literature. I therefore moved to the University of Oxford to start a DPhil in Experimental Psychology, hoping to contribute a more current perspective to social media research. There, I used innovative statistical techniques to analyse large-scale international datasets to determine how social media and digital technology use affect the well-being of teenagers. I have subsequently presented my findings before the House of Common’s Science and Technology Select Committee and the United Nations, while building strong relationships with charities like Barnardo’s and diverse national and international media outlets. In the last years, my results have influenced policy recommendations given by the Chief Medical Officer for England and the Royal Society for Paediatrics and Child Health. Alongside my research, I am also a vocal campaigner for Open Science and improved psychological research practices, having co-founded the global journal club initiative ReproducibiliTea.
Being a Research Fellow at Emmanuel College allows me to devote more time to learning new statistical and computational techniques. I plan to utilise these to challenge the current scientific assumption that social media affects each teenager in a universal way. My work aims to establish how we might predict which children will, in future, be negatively (or positively) affected by their use of social media. Such work has the potential to inform policy and charity interventions and ultimately ensure that our youngest generations are not harmed by an ever-accelerating technological revolution. Furthermore, I engage in advocacy around the need to reshape how technology research is done so that it is fit for the 21st Century.
On days off, you will find me outside road cycling, running, mountaineering, ski touring or going on long walks around the countryside. I am at my happiest holding one of my many beloved maps: planning new routes and discovering old footpaths or secluded pubs. I also listen to unhealthy amounts of Radio 4.
I teach a graduate course in "Psychology as a Robust Science" at the Experimental Psychology Department, which has been popular with students from psychology, neuroscience, psychiatry, criminology and HPS. You can find the syllabus here.
You can find an updated version of my academic CV here.