Sherry Willis, PhD

Personal Statement

I am a life-span developmental psychologist with a primary focus on cognitive development in middle adulthood and aging. My major research interest is on how cognitive functioning changes across the adult lifespan – including both basic cognitive abilities and everyday problem solving. There are three foci to my research:

First, I have conducted a number of cognitive intervention studies in adulthood and old age. I am currently one of the principal investigators on ACTIVE, a national randomized clinical trial of cognitive interventions, funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute of Nursing Research. While early cognitive training studies were concerned with enhancing basic mental abilities, the primary aim of ACTIVE is to maintain or enhance everyday functioning in the elderly.

Second, my research is focusing increasingly on middle age. I have recently edited two books on various aspects of midlife development. There is increasing support that cognitive functioning in midlife is an important precursor both for successful aging and for cognitive impairment in old age. I am Principal Investigator on a recently funded NIA 5-year project to examine factors in midlife, including cognition, demographics, health, cognitively stimulating everyday activities and biomarkers, that are associated with either cognitive impairment in old age or with above average functioning in old age. The project will also involve study of structural changes in brain volume.

A third research interest is the role of cognition in everyday functioning. My students and I have developed several measures of everyday problem solving and have studied change in ability to perform instrumental activities of daily living from young adulthood to old age. We are also examining whether cognitive training is effective in enhancing and maintaining competence in everyday activities.


University of Texas at Austin, Ph.D., 1972, Ed. Psychology
Memphis State University, Memphis, TN, B.S., 1969, Education

Department Affiliations


Recent Publications

The ACTIVE Study: Association of Race and Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) with Long-Term Outcomes and Cognitive Training Effects.
(2023 Oct)
J Aging Health 35(9_suppl): 3S-10S
Rebok GW, Clay OJ, Thorpe RJ Jr, Willis SL

Does Consumer Credit Precede or Follow Changes in Cognitive Impairment Among Older Adults? An Investigation in the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) Trial.
(2023 Oct)
J Aging Health 35(9_suppl): 84S-94S
Dean LT, Chung SE, Gross AL, Clay OJ, Willis SL, Crowe M, McDonough IM, Thomas KR, Marsiske M, Aysola J, Thorpe RJ Jr, Felix C, Berkowitz M, Coe NB

Effects of Cognitive Training on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias: The Moderating Role of Social Determinants of Health.
(2023 Oct)
J Aging Health 35(9_suppl): 40S-50S
Rebok GW, Gellert A, Coe NB, Clay OJ, Wallace G, Parisi JM, Aiken-Morgan AT, Crowe M, Ball K, Thorpe RJ Jr, Marsiske M, Zahodne LB, Felix C, Willis SL

Instability in longitudinal sleep duration predicts cognitive impairment in aged participants of the Seattle Longitudinal Study.
(2023 Aug 4)
Keil SA, Schindler AG, Wang MX, Piantino J, Silbert LC, Elliott JE, Thomas RG, Willis S, Lim MM, Iliff JJ

Beyond Big Five trait domains: Stability and change in personality facets across midlife and old age.
(2023 Oct)
J Pers 91(5): 1171-1188
Brandt ND, Drewelies J, Willis SL, Schaie KW, Ram N, Gerstorf D, Wagner J

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