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Personal profile


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.

Research interests

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 EpidemiologyUniversity 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 AgingUniversity 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 LabBased 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 which will test a range of activities within existing community-based programmes as potential interventions to reduce cognitive ageing in old age.

Roles & Responsibilities

Alan is a Research Leader and Associate Professor in Psychology, in the School of Social Sciences. He teaches on the BSc Psychology programmes (1st Year: Introduction to Psychology; 2nd Year: Research Methods and Analysis; 4th Year: Psychology of Ageing) and supervises undergraduate and postgraduate projects which focus on personality, cognitive abilities, health and wellbeing, and ageing.

Alan's research focuses on the identification of lifestyle and behavioural factors that predict healthy ageing, primarily cognitive ageing. His research examining interventions for cognitive ageing are conducted within The Ageing Lab.

Press Profile

The publication of "Sitting Time, Fidgeting, and All-Cause Mortality in the UK Women’s Cohort Study" in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine generated international media attention in September 2015, with coverage from outlets as diverse as the Washington Post andHuffington Post, to Grazia. A short summary of the findings can be found at: http://www.hw.ac.uk/news/fidgeting-modifies-effect-of-longer-sitting.htm.

When a paper examining associations between sexual behaviours and quality of life in older adults was published in the journal Age and Ageing in August 2015, a number of newspapers and websites featured the findings, including ReutersFox News and health24.com. You can read a piece about the study on the British Geriatrics Society blog, and a short summary of the findings at: http://www.hw.ac.uk/news/sexual-active-older-adults-report-better.htm.

In November 2014, the publication of "Occupational complexity and lifetime cognitive abilities" in the journal Neurology, was reported on BBC News Online, the Wall Street Journal, and others, and was discussed on BBC Radio 4's All in the Mind. The press release can be viewed at: http://www.hw.ac.uk/news/complex-jobs-may-protect-thinking-skills-later-19935.htmThe findings were also included in a more recent Telegraph article (November 2016): "Brain gain: 10 ways to think yourself younger".

In October 2012, the publication of "Neuroprotective lifestyles and the aging brain: activity, atrophy and white matter integrity" in the journal Neurology attracted media attention in the UK and internationally. The paper reported an association between increased physical activity and better structural brain health (less atrophy and fewer white matter lesions).

Outlets covering the story included the Wall Street Journal and the Scottish Daily Mail, with Professor Joanna Wardlaw and Dr Alan Gow giving separate interviews to BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Radio Newcastle. The associated online piece was the most shared BBC News article on the day of release (23 October) and the day after. Other media reports of the publication can be viewed at Canadian TV NewsMen's Journal, the American Association of Retired Persons, and TIME.

Research Group Contact Details

External positions

Guest researcher, University of Copenhagen

1 Jun 2011 → …

Fingerprint Fingerprint is based on mining the text of the person's scientific documents to create an index of weighted terms, which defines the key subjects of each individual researcher.

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Co Author Network Recent external collaboration on country level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots.

Research Output 2004 2019

Brain structural differences between 73- and 92-year olds matched for childhood intelligence, social background, and intracranial volume

Ritchie, S. J., Dickie, D. A., Cox, S. R., Del C. Valdés Hernández, M., Sibbett, R., Pattie, A., Anblagan, D., Redmond, P., Royle, N. A., Corley, J., Muñoz Maniega, S., Taylor, A. M., Karama, S., Booth, T., Gow, A. J., Starr, J. M., Bastin, M. E., Wardlaw, J. M. & Deary, I. J., Feb 2018, In : Neurobiology of Aging. 62, p. 146-158 13 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
Propensity Score

Coupled changes in hippocampal structure and cognitive ability in later life

Anblagan, D., Valdés Hernández, M. C., Ritchie, S. J., Aribisala, B. S., Royle, N. A., Hamilton, I. F., Cox, S. R., Gow, A. J., Pattie, A., Corley, J., Starr, J. M., Muñoz Maniega, S., Bastin, M. E., Deary, I. J. & Wardlaw, J. M., Feb 2018, In : Brain and Behavior. 8, 2, e00838

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
Short-Term Memory
Independent Living

Facebook use and its association with subjective happiness and loneliness

Phu, B. & Gow, A. J., 10 Nov 2018, In : Computers in Human Behavior. 92, p. 151-159 9 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Genetic analysis of over 1 million people identifies 535 new loci associated with blood pressure traits

Million Veteran Program, Evangelou, E., Warren, H. R., Mosen-Ansorena, D., Mifsud, B., Pazoki, R., Gao, H., Ntritsos, G., Dimou, N., Gow, A. J., Tzoulaki, I., Barnes, M. R., Wain, L. V., Elliott, P. & Caulfield, M. J., 17 Sep 2018, In : Nature Genetics. 50, 10, p. 1412-1425 14 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Blood Pressure
Cardiovascular Diseases
Genetic Association Studies
Life Style

Older Adults Experiences of Learning to Use Tablet Computers: A Mixed Methods Study

Vaportzis, E., Giatsi Clausen, M. & Gow, A. J., 3 Sep 2018, In : Frontiers in Psychology. 9, 1631

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
Handheld Computers
Focus Groups


Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society (AFBPsS)

Alan J. Gow (Recipient), 2013

Prize: Election to learned society

British Psychological Society Public Engagement and Media Award

Alan J. Gow (Recipient), 2016

Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)

Chartered Psychologist (CPsychol)

Alan J. Gow (Recipient), 2013

Prize: Other distinction

Chartered Scientist (CSci)

Alan J. Gow (Recipient), 2013

Prize: Other distinction

Fellow of the British Psychological Society (FBPsS)

Alan J. Gow (Recipient), 2016

Prize: Election to learned society

Activities 2014 2018

  • 2 External Examiner
  • 1 Editorial activity
  • 1 Examination

Gerontology (Journal)

Gow, A. J. (Editorial board member)
2018 → …

Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workEditorial activity

PhD External Examiner

Gow, A. J. (Examiner)

Activity: ExaminationExternal Examiner

PhD External Examiner (Mid-term Review)

Gow, A. J. (Examiner)

Activity: Examination

PhD External Examiner

Gow, A. J. (Examiner)

Activity: ExaminationExternal Examiner