Confidence intervals for fMRI activation maps

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4 Scopus citations


Neuroimaging activation maps typically color voxels to indicate whether the blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signals measured among two or more experimental conditions differ significantly at that location. This data presentation, however, omits information critical for interpretation of experimental results. First, no information is represented about trends at voxels that do not pass the statistical test. Second, no information is given about the range of probable effect sizes at voxels that do pass the statistical test. This leads to a fundamental error in interpreting activation maps by naïve viewers, where it is assumed that colored, "active" voxels are reliably different from uncolored "inactive" voxels. In other domains, confidence intervals have been added to data graphics to reduce such errors. Here, we first document the prevalence of the fundamental error of interpretation, and then present a method for solving it by depicting confidence intervals in fMRI activation maps. Presenting images where the bounds of confidence intervals at each voxel are coded as color allows readers to visually test for differences between "active" and "inactive" voxels, and permits for more proper interpretation of neuroimaging data. Our specific graphical methods are intended as initial proposals to spur broader discussion of how to present confidence intervals for fMRI data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere82419
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2 2013

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