Stefanie Höhl

Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna

Stefanie Höhl (SH) studied psychology at Heidelberg University, Germany (2002-2007). She completed her master's thesis at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, where she examined the neurophysiological processes underlying infants' perception of eye gaze. She expanded this research to infants' processing of emotional facial expressions in her doctoral studies (2007-2008) under supervision of Prof. Tricia Striano and Prof. Angela D. Friederici. In her thesis, she showed that infants by three months of age pay increased attention to novel objects that another person looks at with a frightened expression, an important prerequisite for social learning about environmental threats (Hoehl et al., 2008, PLoS One). SH completed her PhD with highest distinction (summa cum laude) at the University of Leipzig. Following completion of her PhD, SH started a position as a researcher and lecturer at the Department for Biological and Developmental Psychology led by Prof. Sabina Pauen at Heidelberg University. There she continued studying infants' neural processing of faces using EEG and eye tracking. She further expanded her research interests to social learning through action observation and imitation in early childhood. She completed her Habilitation at Heidelberg University in 2013. In 2010 and 2014, respectively, she took 8 months of maternity leave. In summer of 2016 SH took on a position as interim Professor for Psychology with a Focus on Neurocognitive Development and Behavioral Regulation at University of Wuppertal, but she declined an offer for a permanent professorship. Instead, in the fall of 2016, SH started the Independent Max Planck Research Group on Early Social Cognition at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig. This allowed her to commence using dual-EEG and dual-fNIRS hyperscanning to study the real-time dynamics of live social interactions between infants, children and adults. She found that the degree of interpersonal neural synchrony during a face-to-face interaction is positively related to dyadic behavioral reciprocity (Nguyen et al., 2020, Cortex) fitting the notion of interactional synchrony as a bidirectional adaptation process in dynamic social exchanges. In 2017, she started her current position as full-professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Vienna and started her lab, the Wiener Kinderstudien (

Stefanie Höhl is interested in the development of cognition, social learning and communication in early childhood. By applying cognitive neuroscience methods in infants and children, SH has been able to track the ontogenetic roots of fundamental social cognitive abilities, such as the perception of emotional expressions, social attention and understanding others' actions. Recently, she has also studied more sophisticated social learning processes, such as the interpersonal transmission of ritualistic actions through observation and imitation in children. The common denominator of SH's work is a strong interest in the underlying neural and cognitive mechanisms of developmental changes on the behavioral level. She therefore combines behavioral and eye tracking experiments with neurophysiological methods such as EEG and fNIRS. Her focus in recent years has been on the functional role of neuronal oscillations for fundamental cognitive processes, such as the encoding of new information in the developing brain. Interpersonal alignment of neuronal oscillations and physiological rhythms has been linked with successful communication and affective bonds between adults. In several projects, SH therefore measures brain activities of several persons simultaneously, applying so-called hyperscanning. This line of research allows her to track the dynamics of naturalistic social learning interactions between, for instance, caregivers and their children. The goal is to achieve a deeper understanding of how infants and children build common ground with other people from early on in development. Together with her team at the "Wiener Kinderstudien", the lab she established in 2018, SH has recently shown that mother-child synchronization of brain activities predicts collaborative success and depends on mutual reciprocity. Her current research on caregiver-infant interactions and the functional mechanisms of infant brain rhythms is funded by the FWF and DFG.
For more information see her webpage.