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Putting A Critical Eye On Brain Imaging Studies

Hardly a week goes by without some brain imaging study making the rounds in science news.

Last week we read that women had similar patterns of brain activation in brain regions associated with emotion, reward and affiliations when looking at images of their dogs and of their children. Last month we read that a man in a vegetative state who was shown a Hitchcock thriller had patterns of brain activity similar to those of healthy participants who watched the same film. Last spring we read that children with musical training — compared to similar children with no musical training — had greater activation in some brain regions associated with executive function while completing a battery of cognitive tests. The list, of course, goes on.

While an early fascination with brain imaging has been partially tempered by a "neuro-backlash," there's still a dearth of resources for those who don't just want to see a single study touted or critiqued, but hope to better understand the basics of neuroimaging and how to become a more sophisticate consumer of brain imaging research. That's why I was pleased to come across a new website featuring MIT's Nancy Kanwisher, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, explaining a variety of brain-imaging basics in accessible lecture form. The videos and style aren't quite as sleek as her TED talk from March, but they're clear and entertaining, with useful demonstrations and examples.

Readers might be especially interested in Kanwisher's tips for critically evaluating functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) studies, explained in the video below. Some tips are merely the tip of the iceberg, but they're a great place to start. Enjoy!

YouTube

You can keep up with more of what Tania Lombrozo is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo.