Skip to main content

Dr Catherine O'Brien

Dr O’Brien is a College Lecture and Director of Studies in Psychological and Behavioural Sciences at Magdalene.

Dr O’Brien received her undergraduate training in psychology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. She was awarded two Gates scholarships to complete her MPhil and PhD respectively, in Social and Developmental Psychology at the University of Cambridge. She was then a research associate in the then Faculty of Social and Political Science, University of Cambridge. Dr. O’Brien has supervised on psychology papers for numerous Cambridge Colleges. She was Director of Studies in SPS/PPS/HSPS at Peterhouse from 2007-2017 and has directed studies in PBS at Magdalene College since 2014, at Jesus College (Part I) since 2020, and at Wolfson College since 2022. She is also a Bye-Fellow in PBS at Lucy Cavendish College, Jesus College and Wolfson College. In May 2018, she was short-listed for a CUSU student-led Teaching Award as a supervisor, one of only 10 such supervisors selected in the School of Social Sciences.


Research Interests

Most broadly, Dr O’Brien’s research focuses on social and developmental psychology – ranging from social representations of the euro to the social construction of ‘geeks’. Much of her research has centred on schools – both primary and secondary – in terms of children and young people’s understanding of authority and power.

Her interest in school bullying, combined with the excision of ‘Asperger Syndrome’ from the DSM 5, led to an interest in the autistic and neurotypical spectrums in both children and adults. These conditions are fascinating to study from a clinical perspective, concerning neurological hardwiring, and from the perspective of personality psychology. She is currently interested in applying Jungian depth psychology to the autism and Asperger literature.

At present, her research focuses on three perspectives: social psychology concerning social stigmas and stereotypes; Jungian depth psychology as an alternative to the study of cognitive biases; a comparison of mainstream accounts and New Age discourses.


BBusSc Cape Town, BSocSc(Hons) Cape Town, MPhil Cantab, PhD Cantab.

Selected Publications

O'Brien, C. (2011). Young people's comparisons of cross-gender and same-gender bullying in British secondary schools. Educational Research, 53:3, 257-301.

Smith, M., Burchell, B., Fagan, C., & O’Brien, C. (2008). Job quality in Europe, Industrial Relations Journal 39:6, 585–602.

Burchell, B., Fagan, C., O’Brien, C., & Smith, M. (2007). Working conditions in the European Union: The gender perspective. Dublin: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions.

O’Brien, C. (2007). Peer devaluation in British secondary schools: Young people’s comparisons of group-based and individual-based bullying. Educational Research, 49, 297-324.

O’Brien, C. & Scott, J. (2007). The role of the family. In J. Coleman and A. Hagell (Eds.). Against the odds: Risk and resilience in adolescence (pp. 17-39) Chichester: John Wiley and Sons.

Louw, J., & O’Brien, C. (2007). The psychological effects of solitary confinement: An early instance of psychology in South African Courts. South African Journal of Psychology, 37, 96-106.

O’Brien, C. (2003). The nature of childhood through history revealed in artworks? Childhood: A Global Journal of Child Research, 10(3), 362-378.

O’Brien, C., & Foster, D. (2001). Making up geeks. Social Psychological Review, 3(2), 34-47.