How to Interpret Resting-State fMRI: Ask Your Participants

J Neurosci. 2021 Feb 10;41(6):1130-1141. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1786-20.2020.


Resting-state fMRI (rsfMRI) reveals brain dynamics in a task-unconstrained environment as subjects let their minds wander freely. Consequently, resting subjects navigate a rich space of cognitive and perceptual states (i.e., ongoing experience). How this ongoing experience shapes rsfMRI summary metrics (e.g., functional connectivity) is unknown, yet likely to contribute uniquely to within- and between-subject differences. Here we argue that understanding the role of ongoing experience in rsfMRI requires access to standardized, temporally resolved, scientifically validated first-person descriptions of those experiences. We suggest best practices for obtaining those descriptions via introspective methods appropriately adapted for use in fMRI research. We conclude with a set of guidelines for fusing these two data types to answer pressing questions about the etiology of rsfMRI.

Keywords: coactivation patterns; consciousness; fMRI; introspection; ongoing experience; resting-state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / psychology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / standards*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic / standards*
  • Rest / physiology*
  • Rest / psychology
  • Thinking / physiology*