The principled control of false positives in neuroimaging

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2009 Dec;4(4):417-22. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsp053.


An incredible amount of data is generated in the course of a functional neuroimaging experiment. The quantity of data gives us improved temporal and spatial resolution with which to evaluate our results. It also creates a staggering multiple testing problem. A number of methods have been created that address the multiple testing problem in neuroimaging in a principled fashion. These methods place limits on either the familywise error rate (FWER) or the false discovery rate (FDR) of the results. These principled approaches are well established in the literature and are known to properly limit the amount of false positives across the whole brain. However, a minority of papers are still published every month using methods that are improperly corrected for the number of tests conducted. These latter methods place limits on the voxelwise probability of a false positive and yield no information on the global rate of false positives in the results. In this commentary, we argue in favor of a principled approach to the multiple testing problem--one that places appropriate limits on the rate of false positives across the whole brain gives readers the information they need to properly evaluate the results.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping*
  • Brain* / blood supply
  • Brain* / physiology
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*