Yaakov Stern, PhD

  • Florence Irving Professor of Neuropsychology (in Neurology, Psychiatry, the GH Sergievsky Center and the Taub Institute ) at CUMC
Profile Headshot


Yaakov Stern is the Florence Irving Professor of Neuropsychology in the Departments of Neurology, Psychiatry, and Psychology, and the Taub Institute for the Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain. Dr. Stern is chief of the Cognitive Neuroscience Division in the Department of Neurology.

Dr. Stern received his BA in Psychology from Touro College in 1975. He received his doctoral training in the Experimental Cognition Program at City University of New York, where he received his PhD in 1983. Dr. Stern began his association with Columbia University Medical Center in 1979, when he began working on his dissertation research on cognition in Parkinson's disease. After receiving his PhD, he was appointed postdoctoral research scientist in 1983, and eventually Professor in 1996.

Dr. Stern’s research focuses on cognition in normal aging and in diseases of aging, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. A strong theme in his research is exploring individual differences in task performance in general and, more specifically, the reason why some individuals show more cognitive deficit than others in the face of brain insult. This has led to the cognitive reserve hypothesis, which provides rationale for intervening to improve cognitive aging. He directs the Reference Ability Neural Network study, a large-scale longitudinal study designed to isolate brain activation and morphological features associated with specific cognitive abilities. He has directed several clinical trials and is currently also involved in several additional, ongoing studies of cognition in normal aging, studies of the heterogeneity of Alzheimer’s disease and epidemiologic studies of aging, Alzheimer’s disease incidence and progression His research approach includes classic neuropsychological and cognitive experimental techniques with a strong focus on functional imaging. He has published over 600 peer-reviewed papers, numerous chapters, and edited a book on cognitive reserve.

Dr. Stern has supervised numerous postdoctoral fellows, many now in faculty positions, and has mentored numerous training awards. He

served as associate editor of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, on the editorial board of several journals Neuropsychology and Aging Neuropsychology and Cognition and on the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council, Alzheimer’s Association.

Academic Appointments

  • Florence Irving Professor of Neuropsychology (in Neurology, Psychiatry, the GH Sergievsky Center and the Taub Institute ) at CUMC

Administrative Titles

  • Chief, Cognitive Neuroscience Division, Department of Neurology


  • Male

Credentials & Experience

Education & Training

  • City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center


My primary research addresses the neural bais for cognitive aging and cognitive reserve.

Cognitive Reserve: I am interested in understanding why some individuals show more cognitive deficit than others given the same degree of brain pathology. My own research, and that of others in the field, has shown that aspects of life experience, such as educational or occupational attainment, can impart reserve against brain pathology, allowing some people to maintain function longer than others. Ongoing imaging studies are designed to explore how this "cognitive reserve" is implemented in the brain.

Cognitive Intervention in Normal Aging: We are exploring potential non-pharmacologic interventions that might improve cognition or cognitive/functional outcomes in normal aging. Currently we are completing an aerobic exercise intervention.

Cognitive Aging: We are trying to understand why some cognitive processes are more affected by aging then others. Age-related change as measured by cognitive tasks can summarized into four domains, or latent variables. We are imaged individuals, from 20 through 80 years of age, with 12 tasks, 3 from each domain, and trying to dermine if we can identify a common neural substrate for each domain. We are now following these people over time to investigate how these netwoks are affected by aging.

Heterogeneity of Alzheimer's Disease: I am conducting a study designed to explore individual differences in the rate of decline and in the manifestation of cognitive, behavioral, psychiatric, and neurologic features in patients with Alzheimer's disease. For one aim of this study, we have developed an algorithm for the prediction of important disease endpoints in individual patients. We are also exploring the economic impact of the disease.

Research Interests

  • Brain Imaging
  • Cognitive Experimental and Neuroimaging Studies in Aging and Dementia
  • Neuropsychology

Selected Publications

  • Stern, Y. (2002). What is cognitive reserve? Theory and research applications of the reserve concept. J. Internat. Neuropsycholog. Soc. (JINS), 8: 448-460.
  • Stern Y, Zarahn E, Habeck C, Holtzer R, Rakitin BC, Kumar A, Flynn J, Steffener J, Brown T. A common neural network for cognitive reserve in verbal and object working memory in young but not old. Cerebral Cortex 2008;18:959-967.
  • Stern, Y. Cognitive reserve. Neuropsychologia 2009;47:2015-2028.
  • Stern Y, Blumen H, Rich L, Richards A, Herzberg G, Gopher D. Space fortress game training and executive control in older adults: a pilot intervention. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition 2011;18(6);653-77.
  • Steffener J, Stern Y. Exploring the neural basis of cognitive reserve in aging. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) 2011;1822(3);467-73.
  • Gazes Y, Rakitin B, Habeck C, Steffener J, Stern Y. Age differences of multivariate network expressions during task-switching and their associations with behavior. Neuropsychologia Sep 2012;50(14);3509-18.
  • Stern Y, Rakitin B, Habeck C, Gazes Y, Steffener J, Kumar A, Reuben A. Task difficulty modulates young-old differences in network expression. Brain Res 2012;1435:130-45.
  • Razlighi QR, Stallard E, Brandt J, Blacker D, Albert M, Scarmeas N, Kinosian B, Yashin AI, Stern Y. A new algorithm for predicting time to disease endpoints in Alzheimer's patients. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease 2014;38(3):661-668.
  • Steffener J, Barulli D, Habeck C, O'Shea D, Razlighi Q, Stern Y. The role of education and verbal abilities in altering the effect of age-related gray matter differences on cognition. PLoS One. 2014 Mar 13;9(3):e91196. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091196. eCollection 2014.