Spatial and temporal limits in cognitive neuroimaging with fMRI

Trends Cogn Sci. 1999 Jun;3(6):207-216. doi: 10.1016/s1364-6613(99)01329-7.


A large body of research in human perception and cognition has been concerned with the segregation of mental events into their presumed hierarchical processing stages, the temporal aspect of such processing being termed 'mental chronometry'. Advances in single-event functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have allowed the extraction of relative timing information between the onset of activity in different neural substrates as well as the duration of cognitive processing during a task, offering new opportunities in the study of human perception and cognition. Single-event fMRI studies have also facilitated increased spatial resolution in fMRI, allowing studies of columnar organization in humans. Important processes such as object recognition, binocular vision and other processes are thought to be organized at the columnar level; thus, these advances in the spatial and temporal capabilities of fMRI allow a new generation of cognitive and basic neuroscience studies to be performed, investigating the temporal and spatial relationships between these cortical sub-units. Such experiments bear a closer resemblance to single-unit or evoked-potential studies than to classical static brain activation maps and might serve as a bridge between primate electrophysiology and human studies. These advances are initially demonstrated only in simple visual and motor system tasks and it is likely to be several years before the techniques we describe are robust enough for general use.