Variability of the hemodynamic response in infants: Influence of experimental design and stimulus complexity

Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2018 Oct:33:182-193. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2018.01.009. Epub 2018 Feb 4.


Measuring brain activity in developmental populations remains a major challenge despite great technological advances. Among the numerous available methods, functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), an imaging modality that probes the hemodynamic response, is a powerful tool for recording brain activity in a great variety of situations and populations. Neurocognitive studies with infants have often reported inverted hemodynamic responses, i.e. a decrease instead of an increase in regional blood oxygenation, but the exact physiological explanation and cognitive interpretation of this response remain unclear. Here, we first provide an overview of the basic principles of NIRS and its use in cognitive developmental neuroscience. We then review the infant fNIRS literature to show that the hemodynamic response is modulated by experimental design and stimulus complexity, sometimes leading to hemodynamic responses with non-canonical shapes. We also argue that this effect is further modulated by the age of participants, the cortical regions involved, and the developmental stage of the tested cognitive process. We argue that this variability needs to be taken into account when designing and interpreting developmental studies measuring the hemodynamic response.

Keywords: Development; Experimental complexity; Infants; Inverted Hemodynamic Response; fNIRS.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Hemodynamics / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Research Design
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared / methods*