A large part of the literature of functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) deals with overt verbal fluency. It has been claimed that fNIRS has a low susceptibility to movement related artefacts as, for example, associated with overt speech. However, so far, no study has investigated this assumption in an experimental design. Therefore, we examined a group of 16 healthy subjects during performance of two verbal fluency tasks (experiment 1: phonological fluency; experiment 2: semantical fluency, paced answers, pronouncing vs. writing). We measured changes of oxygenated (O(2)Hb) and deoxygenated haemoglobin (HHb) over fronto-temporal (brain) areas via fNIRS, while temporalis muscle activity was simultaneously assessed by means of electromyography (EMG). Statistical analyses indicated comparable word production, higher increases of O(2)Hb and higher decreases of HHb over fronto-temporal areas during word fluency in contrast to the control task weekday reciting. This fNIRS pattern indicates fluency related activation and was found for pronouncing and for writing in both experiments. Regarding the EMG data, fluency related activity was only found for pronouncing, not for writing. Thus, muscle activity cannot account for fluency related fNIRS activity during writing. Additionally, correlation analyses showed no systematic associations of fNIRS and EMG signals. In conclusion, we found arguments that fNIRS actually allows for the measurement of brain activity over fronto-temporal areas during verbal fluency. Nonetheless, further studies should evaluate more direct associations between fNIRS and EMG signals by specific experimental manipulations and data analysing approaches that allow dealing fNIRS and EMG raw data simultaneously.
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