Use of multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA) to predict the cognitive state of a subject during task performance has become a popular focus of fMRI studies. The input to these analyses consists of activation patterns corresponding to different tasks or stimulus types. These activation patterns are fairly straightforward to calculate for blocked trials or slow event-related designs, but for rapid event-related designs the evoked BOLD signal for adjacent trials will overlap in time, complicating the identification of signal unique to specific trials. Rapid event-related designs are often preferred because they allow for more stimuli to be presented and subjects tend to be more focused on the task, and thus it would be beneficial to be able to use these types of designs in MVPA analyses. The present work compares 8 different models for estimating trial-by-trial activation patterns for a range of rapid event-related designs varying by interstimulus interval and signal-to-noise ratio. The most effective approach obtains each trial's estimate through a general linear model including a regressor for that trial as well as another regressor for all other trials. Through the analysis of both simulated and real data we have found that this model shows some improvement over the standard approaches for obtaining activation patterns. The resulting trial-by-trial estimates are more representative of the true activation magnitudes, leading to a boost in classification accuracy in fast event-related designs with higher signal-to-noise. This provides the potential for fMRI studies that allow simultaneous optimization of both univariate and MVPA approaches.
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