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 Sherry L. Willis

Research Interests

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.

Sherry L. Willis is Research Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington. She is Co-Director of the Seattle Longitudinal Study with Dr K. Warner Schaie, founding director. She is also a PI on the Advanced Cognitive Training in Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) randomized clinical trial of cognitive training in normal elderly. Dr Willis  is the current recipient of the National Institute on Aging MERIT Award, "Midlife Cognitive Change and Risk of Cognitive Decline," an extension of the Seattle Longitudinal Study, funded 2005-2015.  She is the author or editor of 21 books and has written more than 150 journal articles and chapters on the psychology of aging. 

Education

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

Research and Professional Experience

  • 1972-1978: Assistant Professor of Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University
  • 1978-1986: Associate Professor of Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University
  • 1986-Present Professor of Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University
  • 1988 Visiting Professor, Institute of Gerontology, University of Michigan
  • 1989 Visiting Scientist, Institute of Human Development, University of California at Berkeley.
  • 1995 Fulbright Fellowship, Gerontology Research Center, Lund, Sweden
  • 1998 Visiting Scholar, Max Planck, Berlin
  • 2001 Faculty, NIH Summer Training Institute for Randomized Clinical Trials Involving Behavioral Interventions. Airlie Conference Center, Warrenton, VA
  • 2002 Faculty, NIH Summer Training Institute for Randomized Clinical Trials Involving Behavioral Interventions. Airlie Conference Center, Warrenton, VA
  • 2002 Visiting Scientist, University of Geneva, Switzerland
  • 2003 Faculty, NIH Summer Training Institute for Randomized Clinical Trials Involving Behavioral Interventions. Airlie Conference Center, Warrenton, VA

Honors

  • Fellow, American Psychological Association, Division 15
  • Fellow, American Psychological Association, Division 20
  • Fellow, Gerontological Society of America
  • Fellow, American Psychological Society
  • Pattishall Distinguished Research Award (1992)
  • President, Division 20, Adult Development and Aging, American Psychological Association (1993-1994)
  • Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding Achievement, The Pennsylvania State University (1999)
  • Pauline Schmitt Russell Distinguished Research Career Award, College of Health and Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University (2001)
  • National Institute on Aging, MERIT Award (2005)​
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