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Denise Kohlhepp

MEd Psychology & Education, BPS, MSc (Biology, English, Education)/Staatsexamen, PGCE secondary schools

DPhil Candidate


I am a DPhil (PhD) candidate at the Attention, Brain & Cognitive Development (ABCD) Lab supervised by Prof Gaia Scerif (Department of Experimental Psychology) and Dr Karen Mansfield (Department of Psychiatry). My DPhil is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Grand Union DTP. 

I am personally very interested in the body-mind connection, how these systems interact and developing ways that enable people to achieve their optimal health. Founded on my passion for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, especially Good Health and Wellbeing as well as Quality Education, my interdisciplinary project focuses on the causal mechanisms of physical activity on cognitive and brain health. I’m pursuing to understand the effects of risk and resilience factors on children’s cognition, mental health and life chances. I am investigating the influence of physical activity on cognition and mental health in children and adolescents over time to reveal the direction and order of effects. My studies seek to answer to what extent the positive effects of physical activity on mental health are mediated via improved cognitive function, and vice versa. To address the research questions, I am leveraging large datasets from longitudinal cohort studies that include measures of child and adolescent mental health, cognitive and neuropsychological assessments, including executive function tasks, and accelerometer data of physical activity. The insights of this DPhil may provide novel understanding of the underlying causal pathways as to why physical activity can protect and improve young people’s mental health which is crucial to inform the design of effective interventions and policy guidelines.

Other Activities

I am a Fellow at The Oxford SDG Impact Lab which aligns with my aim of contributing to the improvement of public and planetary health world-wide ( Additionally, I am an awardee of the Global Leadership Challenge 2022 (, organised by the University of Oxford and the St. Gallen Symposium, to collaborate on projects that could address the mental health crisis, a Fellow of the Oxford Character Project’s Global Leadership Initiative (Law & Public Policy stream) dedicated to the cultivation of responsible leadership (, and an ambassador for the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging where I follow my interests in public engagement and policy. 


Prior to my studies at Oxford, I obtained a Master’s in Psychology and Education and the British Psychological Society accreditation at the University of Cambridge where I investigated executive functioning in children with learning difficulties at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. I am also a trained teacher with Staatsexamen from Germany, and prior to returning to academia, I spent several years as a teacher, head of department and athletics coach in a boarding school and as a tutor at the Department for Continuing Education at the University of Oxford. 

I love sports (e.g. athletics, rowing, yoga) as well as exploring new places and have a passion for music and dance.


Best-Dissertation Award and Distinction for MEd in Psychology and Education and the BPS accreditation, University of Cambridge.

Simms Prize for First Class Results, Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge.

Best-Dissertation Award and Distinction for Master’s in Education/Biology/English, Goethe University Frankfurt. 

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