Stuart MacDonald

Stuart MacDonald
Professor. Honours Advisor
Office: COR A261

Ph.D. 2003 (Victoria) joined Department in 2007

Area of expertise

Lifespan development

My research is conducted primarily within two research traditions: individual differences in cognitive aging and the cognitive neuroscience of aging.

I examine patterns and predictors of cognitive decline in the healthy elderly, as well as for the developmental transition between primary and secondary aging (e.g., accelerated memory loss due to morbidity). In particular, I am interested in the early identification of risk factors (genetic, biological, psychological) that foreshadow cognitive impairment associated with age, dementia onset, and subsequent death.

Recent avenues of investigation have focused upon the early identification of those at risk for cognitive and functional decline, paying particular attention to lifestyle interventions (e.g., walking, social singing) that may delay or prevent memory changes with increasing age. My programmatic research continues to explore performance variability, or inconsistency, in (a) behavioural cognitive function (e.g., fluctuations across response latency trials), (b) physiological function (e.g., gait), as well as (c) brain function (e.g., neural variability indexed using fNIRS or fMRI). Findings from my research lab suggest that variability in response profiles may be more sensitive than mean performance for early identification of those at risk of cognitive decline, dementia, or death. Many of these investigations employ novel longitudinal research designs (e.g., intensive repeated measures designs) as well as various statistical techniques for the analysis of change.

I have published over 100 scientific articles and book chapters, with my research funded by various granting agencies within Canada (Alzheimer Society of Canada, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) and from international contexts (Germany, Sweden, and the US). I’ve been fortunate to receive several early career recognitions including being the 2013 Margret M. and Paul B. Baltes Foundation Award in Behavioral and Social Gerontology (awarded by the Gerontological Society of America), as well as a 2015 induction into the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.


  • Cognitive Aging and the Cognitive Neuroscience of Aging
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Intraindividual Variability and Gait as Functional Biomarkers of Brain Health
  • Quantitative Modeling (Multilevel Modeling, Structural Equation Modeling)
  • Longitudinal Research Design


Representative publications

*Underlined co-authors represent undergraduate or graduate students under my supervision or research mentorship; 1co-first authorship

Cerino, E.S., Stawski, R.S., Geldof, G.J., & MacDonald, S.W.S. (2020). Associations between Control Beliefs and Response Time Inconsistency in Older Adults Vary as a Function of Attentional Task Demands. Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 75, 1819–1830.

Gorenko, J., Smith, A., Hundza, S., Halliday, D., Decarlo, C., Sheets, D., Stawski, R., & MacDonald, S.W.S. (2020). A socially-engaged lifestyle moderates the association between gait velocity and cognitive impairment. Aging & Mental Health, 25:4, 632-640, doi:10.1080/13607863.2019.1711361

MacDonald, S.W.S., & Stawski, R.S (2020). Longitudinal Changes in Response Time Mean and Inconsistency Exhibit Predictive Dissociations for Risk of Cognitive Impairment. Neuropsychology, 34, 264-275. 

Munoz, E., Stawski, R. S., Sliwinski, M. J., Smyth, J. M., & MacDonald, S. W. S. (2020). The ups and downs of cognitive function: neuroticism and negative affect drive performance inconsistency. The Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 75, 263–273. doi:10.1093/geronb/gby032

Stawski, R.S., Cerino, E.S., Witzel, D.D., & MacDonald, S.W.S. (2019). Daily stress processes as contributors to and targets for promoting cognitive health in later life. Psychosomatic Medicine, 81, 81-89. doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000000643

Stawski1, R.S., MacDonald1, S.W.S., Brewster, P.W.H., Munoz, E., Cerino, E.S., & Halliday,  D.W.R. (2019). A Comprehensive comparison of quantifications of response time inconsistency in old age: A Measurement burst approach. The Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 74, 397-408. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbx115

Halliday, D.W.R., Gawryluk, J.R., Garcia-Barrera, M.A., & MacDonald, S.W.S. (2019). White Matter Integrity Is Associated With Intraindividual Variability in Neuropsychological Test Performance in Healthy Older Adults. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 13, 352.

MacDonald, S.W.S., Keller, C.J.C., Brewster, P.W.H., & Dixon, R.A. (2018). Contrasting Olfaction, Vision, and Audition as Predictors of Cognitive Change and Impairment in Non-Demented Older Adults. Neuropsychology, 32, 450–460. doi:10.1037/neu0000439

Halliday, D.W.R., Hundza, S., Garcia-Barrera, M., Klimstra, M.D., Commandeur, D., Lukyn, T., Stawski, R.S., & MacDonald, S.W.S. (2018). Comparing Executive Function, Evoked Haemodynamic Response, and Gait as Predictors of Variations in Mobility for Older Adults. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Psychology, 40, 151-160. doi:10.1080/13803395.2017.1325453

Halliday, D.W.R., Stawski, R.S., Cerino, E.S., DeCarlo, C.A., Grewal, K., & MacDonald, S.W.S. (2018). Intraindividual Variability Across Neuropsychological Tests: Dispersion and Disengaged Lifestyle Increase Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. Journal of Intelligence, 6, 12.

MacDonald, S.W.S., Hundza, S., Love, J.A., DeCarlo, C.A., Halliday, D., Brewster, P.W.H., Lukyn, T.V., Camicioli, R., & Dixon, R.A. (2017).  Concurrent Indicators of Gait Velocity and Variability are Associated with 25-Year Cognitive Change: A Retrospective Longitudinal Investigation. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 9, 17.