Associate Professor, Psychology, Heriot-Watt University

Alan joined Heriot-Watt in 2013 as a Lecturer/Assistant Professor and Research Leader, and is now an Associate Professor in Psychology (School of Social Sciences).

Alan graduated with a BSc (Hons.) in Biological Sciences: Psychology from the University of Edinburgh in 2002, and completed his MSc by Research (Psychology) the following year. He completed his PhD in 2007 funded by a Royal Society of Edinburgh/Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland Studentship. On completing his PhD, he held postdoctoral positions within the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, and has been a guest professor at the Center for Healthy Aging, University of Copenhagen, since 2011.

With a background in Psychology, Alan's research focuses on the identification of lifestyle and behavioural factors that predict healthy ageing, primarily cognitive ageing. That is, the factors that might protect or harm the ageing brain. Alan is mainly interested in factors which are malleable, such as activity participation and exercise, social networks and support, and occupational characteristics and exposures. By being amenable to change, such factors are potential targets for interventions designed to reduce or delay the deleterious effect of ageing on cognitive abilities, and so have applied value in an increasingly aged society.

Much of Alan’s research has been conducted on the Lothian Birth Cohort studies based at the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh. The participants in these studies completed a mental ability test when they were aged 11, and decades later were recruited into follow-ups to examine the ageing process across their 70s, 80s and 90s. Alan has also worked with colleagues at the Center for Healthy Aging, University of Copenhagen on the Glostrup 1914 Cohort, a sample recruited at age 50 and followed-up for up to 40 years.

While continuing to work on large, longitudinal studies of ageing, Alan is now developing a translational strand to his research at Heriot-Watt within The Ageing Lab. Based on his work identifying lifestyle factors that appear to protect cognitive abilities, he initiated his first intervention project, A Tablet for Healthy Ageing. The effect of engaging in a 10-week tablet computer training programme, which represented an entirely new and relatively demanding activity for participants, on cognitive abilities and mental wellbeing was assessed; outputs from the study are listed here.

Alan's latest research project was initiated in July 2016. The Intervention Factory is a three year study supported by Velux Stiftung which will test a range of activities within existing community-based programmes as potential interventions to reduce cognitive ageing in old age.

Experience

  • –present
    Associate Professor, Psychology, Heriot-Watt University