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

Beyond Big Five trait domains: Stability and change in personality facets across midlife and old age.
(2022 Nov 3)
J Pers
Brandt ND, Drewelies J, Willis SL, Schaie KW, Ram N, Gerstorf D, Wagner J

Evaluating Social Determinants of Health Domains and Their Predictive Validity Within Black/African American and White Older Adults From the Active Trial.
(2022 Dec 2)
J Aging Health
Clay OJ, Ball KK, Wheeler KM, Crowe M, Marsiske M, Dean LT, Thorpe RJ, Jones R, Owens JH, Rebok GW, Willis SL

Rural-Urban Differences in Cognition: Findings From the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly Trial.
(2022 May 23)
J Aging Health
Steinberg N, Parisi JM, Feger DM, Clay OJ, Willis SL, Ball KK, Marsiske M, Harrell ER, Sisco SM, Rebok GW

Long-Term Effects of Cognitive Training on All-Cause Mortality in US Older Adults.
(2022 Oct)
J Aging Health 34(6-8): 1135-1143
Rebok GW, Huang A, Smail E, Brichko R, Parisi JM, Marsiske M, Roth DL, Thorpe RJ Jr, Felix C, Jones RN, Willis SL

Acting Like a Baby Boomer? Birth-Cohort Differences in Adults' Personality Trajectories During the Last Half a Century.
(2022 Mar)
Psychol Sci 33(3): 382-396
Brandt ND, Drewelies J, Willis SL, Schaie KW, Ram N, Gerstorf D, Wagner J

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