Locally multivariate approaches to functional brain mapping offer a highly appealing complement to conventional statistics, but require restrictive region-of-interest hypotheses, or, in exhaustive search forms (such as the "searchlight" algorithm; Kriegeskorte et al., 2006), are excessively computer intensive. We therefore propose a non-restrictive, comparatively fast yet highly sensitive method based on Monte Carlo approximation principles where locally multivariate maps are computed by averaging across voxelwise condition-discriminative information obtained from repeated stochastic sampling of fixed-size search volumes. On simulated data containing discriminative regions of varying size and contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR), the Monte Carlo method reduced the required computer resources by as much as 75% compared to the searchlight with no reduction in mapping performance. Notably, the Monte Carlo mapping approach not only outperformed the general linear method (GLM), but also produced higher discriminative voxel detection scores than the searchlight irrespective of classifier (linear or nonlinear support vector machine), discriminative region size or CNR. The improved performance was explained by the information-average procedure, and the Monte Carlo approach yielded mapping sensitivities of a few percent lower than an information-average exhaustive search. Finally, we demonstrate the utility of the algorithm on whole-brain, multi-subject functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data from a tactile study, revealing that the central representation of gentle touch is spatially distributed in somatosensory, insular and visual regions.
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