Leah Hibel

Leah Hibel

Position Title
Assistant Professor

Human Ecology


Hibel, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Ecology, specializes in mother-child relationships and physiological regulation. Hibel completed her Ph.D. in biobehavioral health with a minor in human development and family studies at the Pennsylvania State University before joining the UC Davis faculty in 2013. She was previously an assistant professor at Purdue University in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies.

Research interests:

Maternal and child health, mother-child relationships, stress and stress physiology, income and poverty, conflict and violence

Brief overview:

My research focuses on the implications of stressful family environments on mother-child relationships and health. A core component of this is the integration of biological markers of stress physiology. Mothers serve as external regulators of their children’s behaviors, emotions, and physiology. When a child becomes upset, scared, or angry, the mother helps the child make sense of the situation and calms and soothes the child. When mothers are able to effectively regulate their child’s behavioral and physiological processes, the child internalizes the interactions and begins to learn to control these processes on their own. However, family and community stressors can affect a mother’s ability to act as her child’s external regulator. I study how stressors impact the behavioral and physiological reactions of mothers and children. To date, I have examined families facing stressors such as poverty, work stress, and inter-parental conflict/violence. Ultimately, my research aims to elucidate potential mechanisms by which family interactions impact lifelong health and well-being.  

Current projects:

  • Examining maternal physiological reactivity to work stress, parenting stress, and marital stress and its implications for maternal behavior, as well as child behavior and physiology
  • Examining the effects of maternal stress on maternal and child immunity and passively shared immunity (e.g., breast milk physiology)