By using the (14C)2-deoxyglucose method, inhibition has been shown to be a metabolically active process at the level of the synapse. This is supported by recent results from magnetic resonance spectroscopy that related the changes in neuroenergetics occurring with functional activation to neurotransmitter cycling. However, inhibitory synapses are less numerous and strategically better located than excitatory synapses, indicating that inhibition may be more efficient, and therefore less energy-consuming, than excitation. Here we test this hypothesis using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging in volunteers whose motor cortex was inhibited during the no-go condition of a go/no-go task, as demonstrated by transcranial magnetic stimulation. Unlike excitation, inhibition evoked no measurable change in the blood-oxygenation-level-dependent signal in the motor cortex, indicating that inhibition is less metabolically demanding. Therefore, the 'activation' seen in functional imaging studies probably results from excitation rather than inhibition.