Kirk I. Erickson, PhD

  • Professor, Psychology




Education & Training

Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2005)


3107 Sennott Square

Research Interest Summary

Neuroimaging and cognitive studies of age and health

My research has focused on understanding the changes in various aspects of cognition, and the supporting brain structure and function, across the lifespan. For example, I have studied the manner in which executive control processes (e.g. planning, scheduling, working memory, inhibition, task coordination) change from early to late adulthood. In this research I have reported substantial individual differences in the rate of change. Some adults experience rapid changes while others show more gradual changes or very little change in function with advancing age. This demonstrates that although cognitive decline and brain atrophy is common in old age, it is far from being inevitable.

Along these lines, my research is also involved in examining the factors that promote successful aging. For example, environmental factors such as physical activity  influence the trajectory of cognitive decline. Participation in moderate amounts of physical activity can significantly improve cognitive and brain function in older adults. In addition, only 6-months of aerobic exercise was enough to restore lost volume in the prefrontal and temporal cortices.

Genetic factors also play a role in the trajectory of cognitive and brain deterioration in old age. In one recent study we have found that a genetic polymorphism in the BDNF gene contributes to the rate of cognitive decline in old age.  

In short, I take a brain plasticity perspective in the study of age-related patterns of deterioration. My research, from both cross-sectional and randomized intervention studies, has demonstrated that the older adult brain retains its capacity for plasticity.

To examine these research questions, my colleagues and I bring to bear methodologies ranging from reaction time and accuracy, mathematical modeling, and neuroimaging techniques such as functional and anatomical MRI.

Hillman, CH, Erickson, KI, Kramer, AF.  (2008).  Be smart, exercise your heart:  Exercise effects on brain and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 9(1): 58-65.

Erickson, KI, Prakash, RS, Voss, MW, Chaddock, L, Hu, L, Morris, KS, White, SM, Wojcicki, TR, McAuley, E, Kramer, AF.  (2009). Aerobic fitness is associated with hippocampal volume in elderly humans. Hippocampus. 19(10): 1030-1039.

Erickson, KI, Prakash, RS, Voss, MW, Chaddock, L, Heo, S, McLaren, M, Pence, BD, Martin, SA, Vieira, VJ, Woods, JA, McAuley, E, Kramer, AF.  (2010). BDNF is associated with age-related decline in hippocampal volume.  Journal of Neuroscience.  30: 5368-75.

Erickson, KI, Raji, CA, Lopez, OL, Becker, JT, Rosano, C, Newman, AB, Gach, HM, Thompson, PM, Ho, AJ, Kuller, LH. (2010).  Physical activity predicts gray matter volume in late adulthood: the Cardiovascular Health Study.  Neurology. 75: 1415-22.

Erickson KI, Voss, MW, Prakash, RS, Basak, C, Szabo, A, Chaddock, L, Kim, JS, Heo,S, Alves, H, White, SM, Wojcicki, TR, Mailey, E, Vieira, VJ, Martin, SA, Pence, BP, Woods, JA, McAuley, E, Kramer, AF. (2011).  Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108: 3017-22.

Erickson, KI, Banducci, SE, Weinstein, AM, MacDonald, AW 3rd, Ferrel, RE, Halder, I, Flory, JD, Manuck, SB. (2013). The BDNF val66met polymorphism moderates an effect of physical activity on working memory performance.  Psychological Science, 24: 1770-79.

Erickson, KI, Creswell, JD, Verstynen, T, Gianaros, PJ. (2014).  Health Neuroscience: Defining a new field.   Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23: 446-53.

Leckie, RL, Oberlin, LE, Voss, MW, Prakash, RS, Szabo-Reed, A, Chaddock-Heyman, L, Phillips, SM, Gothe, NP, Mailey, E, Vieira-Potter, VJ, Martin, SA, Pence, BD, Lin, M, Parasuraman, R, Greenwood, PM, Fryxell, KJ, Woods, JA, McAuley, E, Kramer, AF, Erickson, KI. (2014).  BDNF mediates improvements in executive function following a 1-year exercise intervention. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8: 985.

Oberlin, LE, Verstynen, TD, Burzynska, AZ, Voss, MW, Prakash, RS, Chaddock-Heyman, L, Wong, C, Fanning, J, Awick, E, Gothe, N, Phillips, SM, Mailey, E, Ehlers, D, Olson, E, Wojcicki, T, McAuley, E, Kramer, AF, Erickson, KI.  (2016). White matter microstructure mediates the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and spatial working memory in older adults.  NeuroImage, 131: 91-101.

Stillman, CM, Lopez, OL, Becker, JT, Kuller, LH, Mehta, PD, Tracy, RP, Erickson, KI. (2017). Physical activity reduces plasma β amyloid levels and decreases risk for cognitive impairment in older adults: Longitudinal results from the Cardiovascular Health Study.  Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, 4: 284-91.

Oberlin, LE, Waiwood, A, Cumming, T, Marsland, A, Bernhardt, J, Erickson, KI.  (2017). Effects of physical activity on post-stroke cognitive function: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Stroke, 48: 3093-3100.

Gujral, S, McAuley, E, Oberlin, LE, Kramer, AF, Erickson, KI. (2018).  Neural predictors of adherence to a 12-month randomized physical activity trial.  Psychosomatic Medicine. 80: 69-77.

Stillman, CM, Erickson, KI. (2018). Physical activity as a model for health neuroscience.  Annals of the New York Academy of Science. 1428: 103-111.