An antidote to the imager's fallacy, or how to identify brain areas that are in limbo

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Abstract

© 2014 de Hollander et al. Traditionally, fMRI data are analyzed using statistical parametric mapping approaches. Regardless of the precise thresholding procedure, these approaches ultimately divide the brain in regions that do or do not differ significantly across experimental conditions. This binary classification scheme fosters the so-called imager's fallacy, where researchers prematurely conclude that region A is selectively involved in a certain cognitive task because activity in that region reaches statistical significance and activity in region B does not. For such a conclusion to be statistically valid, however, a test on the differences in activation across these two regions is required. Here we propose a simple GLM-based method that defines an "in-between" category of brain regions that are neither significantly active nor inactive, but rather "in limbo". For regions that are in limbo, the activation pattern is inconclusive: it does not differ significantly from baseline, but neither does it differ significantly from regions that do show significant changes from baseline. This pattern indicates that measurement was insufficiently precise. By directly testing differences in activation, our procedure helps reduce the impact of the imager's fallacy. The method is illustrated using concrete examples.

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De Hollander, G., Wagenmakers, E. J., Waldorp, L., & Forstmann, B. (2014). An antidote to the imager’s fallacy, or how to identify brain areas that are in limbo. PLoS ONE, 9(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0115700

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