Is "efficiency" a useful concept in cognitive neuroscience?

Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2015 Feb;11:12-7. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2014.06.001. Epub 2014 Jun 13.


It is common in the cognitive neuroscience literature to explain differences in activation in terms of differences in the "efficiency" of neural function. I argue here that this usage of the concept of efficiency is empty and simply redescribes activation differences rather than providing a useful explanation of them. I examine a number of possible explanations for differential activation in terms of task performance, neuronal computation, neuronal energetics, and network organization. While the concept of "efficiency" is vacuous as it is commonly employed in the neuroimaging literature, an examination of brain development in the context of neural coding, neuroenergetics, and network structure provides a roadmap for future investigation, which is fundamental to an improved understanding of developmental effects and group differences in neuroimaging signals.

Keywords: Metabolism; Networks; Neural Energetics; Neuroimaging; Response Time; fMRI.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Efficiency*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Multilingualism
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neural Conduction
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Neurosciences
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Reaction Time*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*