We study human behavior and associated neural mechanisms across adulthood. Our lab research focuses on decision-related cognitive functions and how they change with age. Importantly, some of the changes to decision making in aging are the result of biological processes, others stem from psychological and social processes — but many can be attributed to an interaction of these factors. To understand these complex mechanisms, we utilize an array of methods including cognitive tasks, self-report measures, biomarker sampling, computational modeling, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We are currently conducting behavioral studies at UCF and fMRI studies at the University of Florida’s McKnight Brain Institute.

Current grants that support our research include:

Characterizing and modulating neurocognitive processes of learning to trust and distrust in aging (Lighthall: MPI, NIH R01-AG072658, 03/01/22-04/30/27): The goal of this project is to characterize the psychological and neural mechanisms that support trust-related learning and decision making in normal aging and older adults at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. The project also seeks to determine if trust-related decision making can be optimized in aging via fMRI-based real-time neurofeedback training. This study is being conducted in collaboration with MPIs Dr. Natalie Ebner (Contact MPI: University of Florida) and Dr. Bob Wilson (University of Arizona).

    • Project awarded NIH Diversity Supplement (R01-AG072658-01A1S1) to support Dr. Marilyn Horta (UF Research Scientist) to work on the parent grant.
    • Project awarded NIH Diversity Supplement (R01-AG072658-02S2) to support Kylie Wright (Ph.D. student) to work on the parent grant.

Florida consortium to reduce misinformation and exploitation in Alzheimer’s Disease (Lighthall: PI, FL Dept. Health 22A10, 04/01/22-03/31/26): Led by our lab at UCF, this three-university consortium (with University of Florida under Dr. Natalie Ebner and University of Miami under Dr. Bonnie Levin), examines cognitive and neural mechanisms of vulnerability to deception among ethnically and racially diverse older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. This project’s second major aim is to leverage our empirical data to develop a tool kit that can detect risk for exploitation in older adults.

Optimizing a technology-based body and mind intervention to prevent falls and reduce health disparities in low-income populations (Lighthall: Co-I, NIH R01-MD018025, 09/26/20-06/30/26): This project led by Dr. Ladda Thiamwong (PI, UCF Nursing) will test the usability and efficacy of the technology-based Physio-fEedback Exercise pRogram (PEER) intervention as a method to reduce fall risk and improve self-perceptions of aging among diverse low-income older adults. Within this project, the Lighthall Lab will contribute to the assessment of psychological factors that contribute to fall risk.

    • Project awarded NIH DEIA Mentorship Supplement (R01-MD018025-02S1) to support junior researchers from DEIA backgrounds to work and train under the parent grant.

Measuring uncertainty mechanisms with fNIRS (Lighthall: PI, AFRL Minority Leaders Research Collaboration Program (subaward through Ohio State University), 06/01/2023-05/31/2025): This project seeks to identify neural correlates of uncertainty comprehension during decision processing using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and test the impact of interventions to improve comprehension of uncertainty.

    • The Minority Leaders Research Collaboration Program is the Air Force’s single largest endeavor with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). The objective of the ML-RCP is to enable, enhance, and expand the research capabilities of HBCUs and MSIs through collaborative research efforts with AFRL. Funding from this project includes support for a diverse group of UCF students to work and train under the grant, and includes opportunities for students to apply for paid summer research internships with the U.S. Air Force.

Enhancing controlled social feedback manipulations in cognition and health research with Digital Twins (Lighthall: PI, UCF College of Sciences Seed Grant, 02/03/23-02/02/24): In collaboration with Dr. Roger Azevedo (Co-PI, UCF School of Modeling Simulation and Training), this project seeks to develop 3D avatars that can be used to enhance the ecological validity of research paradigms to examine trust-related decision making and interventions for positive health behaviors.


Additionally, Dr. Lighthall is the Co-Director of an NIH-funded research network, the Scientific Research Network on Decision Neuroscience and Aging (SRNDNA)Grant details for that network are below.

Research network on decision neuroscience and aging (Lighthall: MPI, NIH R24AG076847, 06/15/22-03/31/27): This R24 supports the Scientific Research Network on Decision Neuroscience and Aging (SRNDNA). The long-term goal of this network is to conduct integrative and multidisciplinary research that contributes directly to interventions aimed at improving health and well being in the daily lives of aging adults. Dr. Lighthall co-directs SRNDNA with Dr. Kendra Seaman (Contact MPI: University of Texas Dallas) and Dr. Duke Han (University of Southern California).

    • Project awarded NIH Diversity Supplement (R24-AG076847-02S1) to support Sera Gonzalez (post-bacc researcher) to work on the parent grant.