Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) "brain reading": detecting and classifying distributed patterns of fMRI activity in human visual cortex

Neuroimage. 2003 Jun;19(2 Pt 1):261-70. doi: 10.1016/s1053-8119(03)00049-1.


Traditional (univariate) analysis of functional MRI (fMRI) data relies exclusively on the information contained in the time course of individual voxels. Multivariate analyses can take advantage of the information contained in activity patterns across space, from multiple voxels. Such analyses have the potential to greatly expand the amount of information extracted from fMRI data sets. In the present study, multivariate statistical pattern recognition methods, including linear discriminant analysis and support vector machines, were used to classify patterns of fMRI activation evoked by the visual presentation of various categories of objects. Classifiers were trained using data from voxels in predefined regions of interest during a subset of trials for each subject individually. Classification of subsequently collected fMRI data was attempted according to the similarity of activation patterns to prior training examples. Classification was done using only small amounts of data (20 s worth) at a time, so such a technique could, in principle, be used to extract information about a subject's percept on a near real-time basis. Classifiers trained on data acquired during one session were equally accurate in classifying data collected within the same session and across sessions separated by more than a week, in the same subject. Although the highest classification accuracies were obtained using patterns of activity including lower visual areas as input, classification accuracies well above chance were achieved using regions of interest restricted to higher-order object-selective visual areas. In contrast to typical fMRI data analysis, in which hours of data across many subjects are averaged to reveal slight differences in activation, the use of pattern recognition methods allows a subtle 10-way discrimination to be performed on an essentially trial-by-trial basis within individuals, demonstrating that fMRI data contain far more information than is typically appreciated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / statistics & numerical data*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Mathematical Computing*
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Visual Cortex / blood supply
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*