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Small Sample Sizes Reduce the Replicability of Task-Based fMRI Studies

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Small Sample Sizes Reduce the Replicability of Task-Based fMRI Studies

Benjamin O Turner et al. Commun Biol.

Abstract

Despite a growing body of research suggesting that task-based functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies often suffer from a lack of statistical power due to too-small samples, the proliferation of such underpowered studies continues unabated. Using large independent samples across eleven tasks, we demonstrate the impact of sample size on replicability, assessed at different levels of analysis relevant to fMRI researchers. We find that the degree of replicability for typical sample sizes is modest and that sample sizes much larger than typical (e.g., N = 100) produce results that fall well short of perfectly replicable. Thus, our results join the existing line of work advocating for larger sample sizes. Moreover, because we test sample sizes over a fairly large range and use intuitive metrics of replicability, our hope is that our results are more understandable and convincing to researchers who may have found previous results advocating for larger samples inaccessible.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing interests.

Figures

Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Unthresholded voxel-level results. Replicability results for voxel-level (unthresholded) analyses, measured as the Pearson correlation between paired group maps. Average observed (±1 mean within-task standard deviation) shown in black (dark gray); average null (±1 standard deviation) shown in dashed medium gray (light gray). Also shown are individual task curves for each task (colors given in legend; refer to Table 1 for task abbreviations)
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Conservatively thresholded voxel-level results. Replicability results for voxel-level (thresholded conservatively) analyses, measured as the Jaccard overlap between paired group maps—that is the ratio of the number of voxels in the intersection of the two thresholded maps to the number of voxels in the union of the two. Average observed (±1 mean within-task standard deviation) shown in black (dark gray); average null (±1 standard deviation) shown in dashed medium gray (light gray). Also shown are individual task curves for each task (colors given in legend; refer to Table 1 for task abbreviations). See also Supplementary Fig. 1
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
Conservatively thresholded cluster-level results. Replicability results for cluster-level (thresholded conservatively) analyses, measured as the Jaccard overlap between paired group maps—that is the ratio of the number of voxels in the intersection of the two thresholded maps to the number of voxels in the union of the two. Average observed (±1 mean within-task standard deviation) shown in black (dark gray); average null (±1 standard deviation) shown in dashed medium gray (light gray). Also shown are individual task curves for each task (colors given in legend; refer to Table 1 for task abbreviations). See also Supplementary Fig. 2
Fig. 4
Fig. 4
Conservatively thresholded peak-level results. Replicability results for suprathreshold peak-level (thresholded conservatively) analyses, measured as the peak hit rate—that is, the proportion of cluster peaks in one map in each pair that are suprathreshold in the other map. Average observed (±1 mean within-task standard deviation) shown in black (dark gray); average null (±1 standard deviation) shown in dashed medium gray (light gray). Also shown are individual task curves for each task (colors given in legend; refer to Table 1 for task abbreviations). See also Supplementary Fig. 3

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