Classical and Bayesian inference in neuroimaging: theory

Neuroimage. 2002 Jun;16(2):465-83. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2002.1090.


This paper reviews hierarchical observation models, used in functional neuroimaging, in a Bayesian light. It emphasizes the common ground shared by classical and Bayesian methods to show that conventional analyses of neuroimaging data can be usefully extended within an empirical Bayesian framework. In particular we formulate the procedures used in conventional data analysis in terms of hierarchical linear models and establish a connection between classical inference and parametric empirical Bayes (PEB) through covariance component estimation. This estimation is based on an expectation maximization or EM algorithm. The key point is that hierarchical models not only provide for appropriate inference at the highest level but that one can revisit lower levels suitably equipped to make Bayesian inferences. Bayesian inferences eschew many of the difficulties encountered with classical inference and characterize brain responses in a way that is more directly predicated on what one is interested in. The motivation for Bayesian approaches is reviewed and the theoretical background is presented in a way that relates to conventional methods, in particular restricted maximum likelihood (ReML). This paper is a technical and theoretical prelude to subsequent papers that deal with applications of the theory to a range of important issues in neuroimaging. These issues include; (i) Estimating nonsphericity or variance components in fMRI time-series that can arise from serial correlations within subject, or are induced by multisubject (i.e., hierarchical) studies. (ii) Spatiotemporal Bayesian models for imaging data, in which voxels-specific effects are constrained by responses in other voxels. (iii) Bayesian estimation of nonlinear models of hemodynamic responses and (iv) principled ways of mixing structural and functional priors in EEG source reconstruction. Although diverse, all these estimation problems are accommodated by the PEB framework described in this paper.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Bayes Theorem*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Diagnostic Imaging*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Linear Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Models, Neurological
  • Statistics as Topic / methods
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed