Vanessa Bennett

Vanessa is supporting the BeGood Citizen’s: EIE projects working with young people advisory groups to investigate moral attitudes to, and judgments about, a range of early intervention strategies to manage moral and behavioural development and mental health ethics. Vanessa will also be working on projects with the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre Patients Active in Research Group involving young people.

Prior to joining the Department, Vanessa worked at Oxford Brookes in the Developmental Psychology group as a Research Assistant and Test Administrator on a standardisation project for Intelligence and Development Scales (IDS-2) and projects involving assessments of handwriting and movement in children and young people. She previously spent 20 years involved in healthcare communications.

Vanessa attained an MSc in Psychology from Oxford Brookes University, with her thesis investigating the effects of cognitive loads on goal-directed memory functioning in adolescents. She also holds a BSc in Animal Biology from The University of Birmingham and MSc in Veterinary Parasitology from The University of Liverpool.

Vanessa is interested in researching the psychological and cognitive impact of early interventions on development of children and young people. She is interested in both experimental and applied aspects of psychological science and improving the mental health outlook in children and young people.


  • Online peer support training to promote adolescents’ emotional support skills, mental health and agency during COVID-19: Randomised controlled trial and qualitative evaluation.

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    Adolescents often look to their peers for emotional support, so it is critical that they are prepared to take on a supportive role, especially during a health crisis. Using a randomised controlled trial (ISRCTN99248812, 28/05/2020), we tested the short-term efficacy of an online training programme to equip young people with skills to support to their peers' mental wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020, one-hundred UK adolescents (aged 16-18) recruited through social media were randomly allocated (1:1) to immediate 5-day peer support training or a wait-list, via an independently generated allocation sequence. Primary outcomes were indicators of ability to help others (motivation, perceived skills, frequency of help provided, compassion to others and connectedness to peers). Secondary outcomes included emotional symptoms, mental wellbeing, and indicators of agency (civic engagement and self-efficacy). We also collected qualitative reports of participants' experience. Assessments were completed at baseline and 1 week post randomisation (primary endpoint), and up to 4 weeks post randomisation (training group only). The training increased support-giving skills, frequency of providing support, compassion and peer connectedness (medium-large-effect sizes), but not motivation to provide support, 1 week post randomisation, compared to controls. Gains in the training group were maintained 4 weeks post randomisation. Training also improved adolescents' mental health and agency, and qualitative reports revealed further positive outcomes including increased self-care and empowerment. Leveraging digital platforms that are familiar to young people, peer support training has the potential to enable adolescents to support their own and their peers' mental wellbeing during a health crisis.

  • How to build a game for empirical bioethics research: The case of ‘Tracing Tomorrow’.

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    It is becoming increasingly clear that the field of empirical bioethics requires methodological innovations that can keep up with the scale and pace of contemporary research in health and medicine. With that in mind, we have recently argued for Design Bioethics—the use of purpose-built, engineered research tools that allow researchers to investigate moral decision-making in ways that are embodied and contextualized. In this paper, we outline the development, testing and implementation of a novel prototype tool in the Design Bioethics Workshop—with each step illustrated with collected data. Titled ‘Tracing Tomorrow’ (, the tool is a narrative game to investigate young people's values and preferences in the context of digital phenotyping for mental health. The process involved (1) Working with young people to discover, validate and define the morally relevant cases or problems, (2) Building and testing the game concept in collaboration with relevant groups and game developers, (3) Developing prototypes that were tested and iterated in partnership with groups of young people and game developers and (4) Disseminating the game to young people to collect data to investigate research questions. We argue that Design Bioethics yields tools that are relevant, representative and meaningful to target populations and provide improved data for bioethics analysis.

    Patient or Public Contribution

    In planning and conducting this study, we consulted with young people from a diverse range of backgrounds, including the NeurOX Young People's Advisory Group, the What Lies Ahead Junior Researchers Team, Censuswide youth participants and young people from the Livity Youth Network.