Lesley A. Ross 

photo of Lesley Ross

Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies

Contact Information

202 Health and Human Development Building





Research Interests

I am a Developmental Psychologist with a multidisciplinary research background focused on improving the everyday functioning in older adults. To achieve this goal, my expertise includes cognitive aging, interventions to maintain healthy aging, human factors, and applied everyday outcomes such as mobility and driving. My overall research goal can be broken into two general thematic areas:

Everyday Function of Older Adults
My first research theme centers on cognition, health and everyday outcomes in older adults. This line of research investigates the trajectories of change and the identification of factors contributing to various levels of impairment in these outcomes. Better understanding of these trajectories and contributing factors will allow for identification of possible areas and key time points for interventions that may slow or delay declines in cognition, health and everyday outcomes. Research projects within this first theme have included: driving mobility and safety in teens and older adults; Australian drivers licensing policies; cognitive, mental and physical health in older adults; cognitive functioning in adults with HIV, cancer, and Mild Cognitive Impairment; and neuropsychological performance of older adults.

Driving: A prime area of my focus is the driving safety and mobility of older adults. Driving is a key factor in maintaining independence in our society. Older adults who stop driving are at greater risk for depression, reduced out-of-home activities, poorer health and greater health expenditures, and are at increased risk for mortality within the first three years of driving cessation. Of course, a careful balance must be maintained between the mobility and independence of older drivers and the increased safety risk via crashes found in a subset of these drivers. In collaboration with co-PI Dr. Stavrinos at UAB, I currently have a project funded by the National Institute of Aging, the Alabama Department of Transportation, and the US Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA)/University Transportation Centers program that uses smartphone technology to collect naturalistic data on the driving safety, behaviors, and mobility teens and older adults. This project will help inform how current in-vehicle technologies may assist and hinder safe driving and mobility across the lifespan.

The translation of this first line of research into evidence-based interventions is the focus of my second line of research.

Methods to Maintain Everyday Function in Older Adults:
I am interested in any behavioral intervention that demonstrates real-world transfer to an activity of daily living or health. This can include (but is not limited to) interventions that reduce depression, maintain driving safety, or maintain the ability of an individual to age within his or her own home. Thus far, I have primarily focused on cognitive and physical exercise interventions with older adults.

One area that is demonstrating great promise is cognitive interventions that tap visual divided attention or processing speed. One such computerized intervention that I investigate (often called Processing Speed Training) has shown to transfer to maintained or improved everyday health and activities in older adults. These everyday outcomes have included maintained health and reduced health expenditures, reduced risk of depression, fewer at-fault vehicular crashes and safer driving, prolonged driving mobility, improved cognitive function, and improved Instrumental Activities of Daily Living.

I am the PI on two projects investigating the impact of cognitive training, exercise and combinations of such interventions on everyday functioning. We are also investigating the neural mechanisms (via fMRI) and genetic influences on training effects within these projects. Of particular interest are currently marketed technologies that may be used to enhance the cognitive, health, and everyday functioning of a range of populations throughout the lifespan.

Further Details can be found on my lab webpage at: www.SHAARP.org
SHAARP: The Study of Healthy Aging & Applied Research Programs lab


B.A., 2001, Psychology and French, University of Montevallo
M.Ed., 2003, Secondary Education, University of Montevallo
M.A., 2006, Lifespan Developmental Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Ph.D., 2007, Lifespan Developmental Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Post Doctoral Fellow, 2007-09, Center for Mental Health Research, Ageing Research Unit, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Professional Experience

  • 2014-Present: Assistant Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Pennsylvania State University
  • 2009-2013: Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham.  Secondary Appointment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Selected Publications

Ross, L. A., Edwards, J. D., O’Connor, M. L., Ball, K. K., Wadley, V. G., & Vance, D. E. (in press). The transfer of cognitive speed of processing training to older adults’ driving mobility across five years. Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences. DOI: 10.1093/geronb/gbv022

*Schmidt, E. S., *Burge, W., Visscher, K. M., & Ross, L. A. (in press). Cortical thickness in fronto-parietal and cingulo-opercular networks predicts executive function performance in older adults. Neuropsychology.

Vance, D. E., Fazeli, P. L., Ball, D. A., Slater, L. Z., & Ross, L. A. (2014). Cognitive functioning and driving simulator performance in middle-aged and older adults with HIV. Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, 25(2), e11-e26. PMID: 24513104, PMCID: PMC3939674.

Ross, L. A., *Schmidt, E., & Ball, K. K. (2013). Interventions to Maintain Mobility: What Works. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 61, 167-196. pii: S0001-4575(12)00344-2

Ball, K., Ross, L. A., Edwards, J., & Roth, D. (2013). Speed of Processing Training in the ACTIVE Study: Who Benefits? The Journal of Aging and Health,25, 65S-84S. NIHMSID #513737.

*Fazeli, P. L., Ross, L. A., Vance, D. E., & Ball, K. (2013). The Relationship Between Computer Experience and Computerized Cognitive Test Performance Among Older Adults. Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences,68(3), 337-346.

Ross, L. A., Dodson, J., Edwards, J. D., Ackerman, M. L & Ball, K. K. (2012). Self-rated driving and driving safety in older adults. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 48, 523-527.

Ross, L. A., Browning, C., Luszcz, M. A., Mitchell, P. & Anstey, K. J. (2011). Age-based testing for driver’s license renewal: Potential implications for older Australians. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 59, 281-285.

Ball, K., Edwards, J. D., Ross, L. A., & McGwin, J., Jr. (2010). Cognitive training decreases risk of motor vehicle crash involvement among older drivers. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 58, 2107-2113.

Ross, L. A., Anstey, K. J., Kiely, K., Windsor, T., Byles, J., Luszcz, M. A., & Mitchell, P. (2009). Older drivers in Australia: Trends on driving status and cognitive and visual impairment. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS), 57(10), 1868-1873.

Center Affiliations

  • Center for Healthy Aging
  • Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center

Strategic Themes

  • Human Development
  • Domains of Health and Behavior