Our current pillars and research pillars

Perception, Aesthetics, and Innovation

Phenomena in Cognitive Science

One of the pillars of Vienna CogSciHub is the research field of Perception, Aesthetics, and Innovation, in which we have an internationally unique interdisciplinary research profile, with expertise from psychology, art history, applied philosophy, cognitive and behavior biology, organisational science, and neurosciences.

Following an enactivist approach to cognition we understand perception and action as world- and sense-making; as a dynamic interaction process between environment and organisms.

We use a wide range of methods - quantitative and qualitative - from eye tracking, facial EMG, EEG, fNIRS, fMRI, and human-animal comparisons to online questionnaires, behavioral coding, open interviews, mapping, and discourse analysis, in the lab , and the field (museum, field studies).


We are expanding our interdisciplinary studies in the field of Cognitive Neuroscience with a strong focus on Neuroaesthetics and neural mechanisms of perception. Since October 2020, Dr. Matthew Pelowski, new TT Professor for Neuroaesthetics, has an affiliation at the Vienna CogSciHub.

Moreover, the applied field of Environmental Psychology is now represented by Dr. Matthew White, who joined the Hub coming from Exeter.


Ulrich Ansorge
Cognitive Psychology 

Helmut Leder
Empirical Aesthetics

Raphael Rosenberg
Art History

Markus Peschl
Philosophy and Innovation

Leonida Fusani

Elisabeth Oberzaucher
Urban Ethology

Matthew Pelowski
Empirical Aesthetics

Klaus-Peter Speidel
Art History

Selected projects in Cognitive Science

  • 2019 FFG “Bridge project, Evaluation of dynamic beam elements through attention and development of adaptive car head lights”. PI Ansorge, ~ 500.000€
  • 2018 WWTF “Comparative Aesthetics”. Fusani (PI) & Leder Co-Pi ca. 515.000 €
  • 2016 WWTF RosLed CS15-036 “Universal aesthetics of lines and colors”. Rosenberg PI & Leder Co-PI, 600.000€ 2016 WWTF “How language shapes perception and cognition: A contrastive study of space and evidentiality in German and Korean”. PI Ansorge, ~ 600.000€
  • 2015 “Man4Gen”. Manual Operation of 4th Generation Airliners. 7th Framework EU Project. Lamm and Peschl [Stichting Nationaal Lucht- en Ruimtevaartlaboratorium, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, International Development of Technology, Linköpings Universitet, Boeing Research & Technology Europe, University of Vienna , Medical University of Vienna, Global Training Aviation, Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, SA], 335.000€
  • 2013 FWF “The Cultural Eye. An Empirical Study of Group-Specific Differences in Art Perception”. Rosenberg PI in cooperation with Leder, P 25821-G21, 270.000€
  • 2011 WWTF “Time makes the difference! Uncovering the nature of aesthetic experience”. Leder PI & Rosenberg Co-PI, CS11-023, 392.200€

Selected Publications

Pelowski, M., Cabbai, G., Brinkmann, H., Mikuni, J., Hegelmaier, L., Rosenberg, R., Leder, H. & Forster, M., (2020, in press). The Kitsch Switch—or (When) Do Experts Dislike Thomas Kinkade Art? A Study of Time-Based Evaluation Changes in Top-Down Versus Bottom-Up Assessment. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.

Gartus, A.. Völker, , & Leder, H. (2020). What Experts Appreciate in Patterns: Art Expertise Modulates Preference for Asymmetric and Face-Like Patterns. Symmetry 2020, 12(5), 707; doi.org/10.3390/sym12050707

Reitstätter, L., Brinkmann, H., Santini, T., Specker, E., Dare, Z., Bakondi, F., Miscena, A., Kasneci, E., Leder, H. & Rosenberg, R.(2020). The Display Makes a Difference: A Mobile Eye Tracking Study on the Perception of Art before and After a museum's Rearrangement. In : Journal of Eye Movement Research. 13, 2, p. 1–29

Hur, Y.-J., Gerger, G., Leder, H., & McManus, I. C. (2020). Facing the sublime: Physiological correlates of the relationship between fear and the sublime. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 14(3), 253–263. doi.org/10.1037/aca0000204

Mitrovic, A., Helgelmaier, L.M., Leder, H. & Pelowski, M. (2020, in press). Does beauty capture the eye, even if it’s not (overtly) adaptive? A comparative eye-tracking study of spontaneous attention and visual preference with VAST abstract art. Acta Psychologica.

Kaisler, R., Marin, M. & Leder, H. (2020, in press). Effects of emotional expressions, gaze, and head orientation on person perception in social situations. Plos One.

Clay, V., Schrumpf, J., Tessenow, J., Leder, H., Ansorge, U. & König, P. (2020). A Quantitative Analysis of the Taxonomy of Artistic Styles. Journal of Eye Movement Research.

Specker, E., Stamkou, E., Pelowski, M., & Leder, H. (2020, in press). Radically revolutionary or pretty flowers? An experimental museum study of the impact of curatorial narrative highlighting artistic deviance on the visitor’s assessment of artist influence. Psychology of Aesthe tics, Creativity, and the Arts. Preprint: papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm

Specker , E., Forster, M., Brinkmann, H., Boddy, J., Immelmann, B., Goller, J., Pelowski, M., Rosenberg, R. & Leder, H. (2020). Warm, lively, rough? Assessing agreement on aesthetic effects of artworks. Plos One., 15(5): e0232083, May 13, 2020. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0232083

Brieber, D., Forster, M., & Leder, H. (2020). On the mutual relation between art experience and viewing time. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 14(2), 197–208. doi.org/10.1037/aca0000210

Pelowski, M., Graser, A., Specker, E., Forster, M., von Hinüber, J., & Leder, H. (2020). Does Gallery Lighting Really have an Impact on Appreciation of Art? An ecologically-valid study of lighting changes and the assessment and emotional experience with representational and abstract paintings. Frontiers in Psychology, Environmental Psychology. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02148

Pelowski, M., Hur, Y., Cotter, K., Ishizu, T., Christensen, A., Leder, H., & McManus, C. (2019). Quantifying the if, the what, and the when of the sublime: A survey and network model of incidence, emotions, triggers, and distinct varieties within reports of personal sublime experiences. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Online first. DOI: 10.1037/aca0000273

Immelmann, B., Boddy, J., Rosenberg, R., Leder, H. & Brinkmann, H., (2019). Kandinsky´s Bauhaus Questionnaire: Color-Form Correspondences between Introspection and Experiment, (2020) in : Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft. 64, 2, S. 99-125.

Markey, P., Jakesch, M. & Leder, H. (2019). Art looks different – semantic and syntactic processing of paintings and associated neurophysiological brain responses. Brain and Cognition 134 (2019) 58–66

Social Cognition, Empathy, Animal Cognition & Communication


Thomas Bugnyar
Cognitive Ethology

Tecumseh Fitch
Cognitive Biology

Claus Lamm
Biological Psychology

Stephanie Höhl
Developmental Psychology

Georgia Silani
Clinical Social Neuroscience 

Angela Stöger
Cognitive Biology

Phenomena in Cognitive Science

Within this research pillar, we investigate the emergence of the social brain and mind using a wide range of mostly non-invasive research methods. These range from psychopharmacology and genetics over cognitive science and neuroscience to observational and experimental studies in large groups of free-ranging animals in the field. What gives our research a unique twist, is that we work on a variety of model species, including ravens, dogs, monkeys, elephants, and humans.

With the recent recruitment of Stefanie Höhl and Georgia Silani by the University of Vienna, we now also target developmental aspects, such as the cognitive and neural processes underpinning parent-infant interaction, as well as neurodiversity and disorders of the social brain and mind, such as autism and alexithymia. By means of our inherently inter- and multidisciplinary research approach, we aim to foster Vienna’s reputation as a prime research location for comparative social cognition and neuroscience.


Neuroscientific data and mechanisms are an essential aspect in our research. We are using a wide range of mostly non-invasive methods, including fMRI in humans and dogs, EEG and dual fNIRS in infants, as well as psychopharmacological and psychoneuroendocrinological methods.

Selected projects in Cognitive Science

  • 2019 WWTF "Convergent evolution of the social brain? A comparative dog-human fMRI approach (EVOSOCBRAIN)". Lamm with Ludwig Huber/Messerli Research Institute, 600.000€
  • 2017 FWF "Doctoral College ‘CogCom2’: Cognition and Communication 2". PI T. Fitch; Co-PI Bugnyar, Lamm, 2,367.000€
  • 2017 FWF  "Fission-fusion Dynamics and Social Cognition in Wild Ravens". Bugnyar,  370.000€
  • 2015 WWTF "'Wanting' and 'Liking': The Neurochemical and Neurocognitive Basis of Primary and Social Reward in Humans". Giorgia Silani, 600.000€
  • 2016 BMWFW, Hochschulraum-Strukturmittelprojekt “Computational Ethology”. Bugnyar, Fitch, Fusani and Huber, 400.000€
  • 2014 BMWFW "Interdisciplinary Translational Brain Research Cluster with High Field MR Magnetic  Resonance". Lamm, Bugnyar, Fitch with Huber, 3.500.000€
  • 2013 WWTF Vienna Research Group for Young Investigators 2013. “The neurobiology of beliefs in dynamic social interactions”. Eisenegger, Lamm, 1,500.000€
  • 2012 WWTF "Modeling social transmission in corvids". Schwab and Bugnyar, 360.000€
  • 2011 WWTF "Like me: The evolutionary and neuro-cognitive basis of the link between imitation, empathy and prosocial behaviour in dogs and humans". Huber/Lamm, 500.000€

Selected Publications

Korb, S., Götzendorfer, S. J., Massaccesi, C., Sezen, P., Graf, I.,  Willeit, M., Eisenegger, C.,  Silani, G. (2020). Dopaminergic and opioidergic regulation of implicit hedonic facial reactions during anticipation and consumption of social and nonsocial rewards. eLife; 9:e55797 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.55797

Bird, G*, Silani, G*, Brindley, R, White, S, Frith, U., Singer, T. (2010). Empathic brain responses in insula are modulated by levels of alexithymia but not autism. Brain, 133: 1515-25.

Bugnyar, T., & Kotrschal, K. (2002). Observational learning and the raiding of food caches in ravens, Corvus corax: is it ‘tactical’deception?. Animal behaviour, 64(2), 185-195. Fitch, W. T. (2010). The evolution of language. Cambridge University Press.

Fitch, W. T., Huber, L., & Bugnyar, T. (2010). Social cognition and the evolution of language: constructing cognitive phylogenies. Neuron, 65(6), 795-814.

Lamm, C. , Bukowski, H., & Silani, G. (2016).  From shared to distinct self – other  representations in empathy: evidence from neurotypical function and socio - cognitive disorders.  Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B,371 , 20150083.

Cogoni, C., Carnaghi, A., Silani, G. (2018). Reduced empathic responses for sexually objectified women: an fMRI investigation. Cortex. 99: 258-272.

Hein, G., Silani, G., Preuschoff, K., Bateson, C.D., Singer, T. (2010). Differential empathic brain responses in In- and Outgroup pain predict ingroup favouritism in altruistic helping. Neuron, 68: 149-60.

Huber, L., &  Lamm, C. (2017).  Understanding dog cognition by functional  magnetic resonance imaging.  Learning & Behavior, 45(2),101-102.

Rütgen, M., Seidel, E.M., Silani, G., Riecansky, I., Hummer, A., Windischberger,  C., Petrovic, P., &  Lamm, C. (2015). Placebo analgesia and its opioidergic regulation suggest that empathy for pain is grounded in self pain. Proceedings  of th e National Academy of Sciences USA, 112(41), E5638–E5646.

Rütgen, M., Seidel, E.M., Riecansky, I., &  Lamm, C. (2015).  Reduction of  empathy for pain by placebo analgesia suggests functional equivalence of  empathy and first - hand e motion experience.  Journal of Neuroscience ,  5(23):8938–8947.

Silani, G.,  Lamm, C. , Ruff, C.C., & Singer, T. (2013).  Right supramarginal  gyrus is crucial to overcome emotional egocentricity bias in social judgments.  9 Journal of Neuroscience, 33 (39),  15466 - 15476.

Striano, T., Reid, V. M., & Hoehl, S. (2006). Neural mechanisms of joint attention in infancy. European Journal of Neuroscience, 23(10), 2819-2823.

Cognitive Science of Language & Music

Phenomena in Cognitive Science

The human capacity for language and propensity to produce and enjoy music are among our most precious and unusual abilities as a species. Nonetheless, in both language and music we find some aspects that are shared with other animal species.

Furthermore, an understanding of the neural basis of music and language supports the idea that these capacities are built up of sub-components that are shared with other species. For example, many aspects of speech perception and basic cognition are shared with nonhuman species, while traits like complex syntax are unusual or unique to our species.

Similarly, some aspects of music, like the ability to learn to sing new songs, are shared with birds or whales, but complex harmonic syntax appears unusual to humans and indeed particular cultures. Research in this third pillar of the Vienna Cognitive Science Hub is very diverse, spanning basic research on vocal production and perception in animals, to fMRI and physiological measurements during music perception in humans.


Multiple researchers in this pillar already use brain-imaging methods, particularly fMRI, to study the neural basis of music and language. This focus is expected to deepen with the planned hiring of a tenure-track researcher in this field in 2019, and to be extended to EEG and other neural methods.


Tecumseh Fitch
Cognitive Biology

Dalina Kallulli

Christoph Reuter
Systematic Musicology

Susanne Reiterer

Selected Projects in Cognitive Science

  • 2019 FWF Lisa-Meitner “Crossmodal metaphors in timbre cognition”. (M2619), PI Saitis with Reuter, 169.260€
  • 2018 FWF Lise-Meitner “The History of Colored Hearing from 1812 until 1988”. (M2440), PI Saitis with Reuter, 169.260€
  • 2015 OeNB Fond “Implementation of a pitch and dynamic independent model for the measurement of timbre similarity”. PI Reuter with Siddig, 106.480€
  • 2011 UniWien/MedUni - Present – Research Cluster “Shared Resources in Music and Language”. Beisteiner and Fitch, 300.000€
  • 2009 ERC Grant “Syntax of Mind”. PI Tecumseh Fitch, 2,000.000€

Selected Publications

Christiner, M., & Reiterer, S. (2018). Early Influence of Musical Abilities and Working Memory on Speech Imitation Abilities: Study with Pre-School Children. Brain sciences, 8(9), 169.

Christiner, M., & Reiterer, S. M. (2013). Song and speech: examining the link between singing talent and speech imitation ability. Frontiers in psychology, 4, 874.

Czedik-Eysenberg, I., Knauf, D., Reuter, C. (2017). "Hardness" as a semantic audio descriptor for music using automatic feature extraction. In M. Eibl, M. Gaedke (Eds.), Lecture Notes in Informatics  (p. 101-110). Bonn: Köllen. Fitch, W. T. (2006). "The biology and evolution of music: A comparative perspective," Cognition 100, 173-215.

Fitch, W. T. (2010). The Evolution of Language (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge).

Fitch, W. T. (2016). "Music, Dance, Meter and Groove: A Forgotten Partnership," Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 10, 64.

Fitch, W. T. (2017). "Empirical approaches to the study of language evolution," Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 24, 3-33.

Fischmeister, F. P., Martins, M. D., Beisteiner, R., and Fitch, W. T. (2017). "Self-similarity and recursion as default modes in human cognition," Cortex 97, 183-201. Kallulli, D. (2006). Triggering factivity: Prosodic evidence for syntactic structure. In Proceedings of 25th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (pp. 211-219).

Martins, M. D., Fischmeister, F. P., Puig-Waldmüller, E., Oh, J., Geissler, A., Robinson, S., Fitch, W. T., and Beisteiner, R. (2014). "Fractal image perception provides novel insights into hierarchical cognition," Neuroimage 96, 300-308.

Reiterer, S. M., et al (2005). "Impact of task difficulty on lateralization of pitch and duration discrimination," NeuroReport 16, 239-242.

Reuter, C.,  Czedik-Eysenberg, I., Siddiq, S., Oehler, M. (2018). "Formant distances and the similarity perception of wind instrument timbres". In Parncutt, R., Sattmann, S.(Eds.), Proceedings of CMPC15/ESCOM10 (p. 367-371). Graz.

Thiesen, F. C., Kopiez, R., Reuter, C., & Czedik-Eysenberg, I. (2019). A snippet in a snippet: Development of the Matryoshka principle for the construction of very short musical stimuli (plinks). Musicae Scientiae 24.

Turker, S., Reiterer, S. M., Seither-Preisler, A., & Schneider, P. (2017). “When music speaks”: Auditory cortex morphology as a neuroanatomical marker of language aptitude and musicality. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 2096.