Frequency-domain analysis of fNIRS fluctuations induced by rhythmic mental arithmetic

Psychophysiology. 2022 Oct;59(10):e14063. doi: 10.1111/psyp.14063. Epub 2022 Apr 8.


Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) is an increasingly used technology for imaging neural correlates of cognitive processes. However, fNIRS signals are commonly impaired by task-evoked and spontaneous hemodynamic oscillations of non-cerebral origin, a major challenge in fNIRS research. In an attempt to isolate the task-evoked cortical response, we investigated the coupling between hemodynamic changes arising from superficial and deep layers during mental effort. For this aim, we applied a rhythmic mental arithmetic task to induce cyclic hemodynamic fluctuations suitable for effective frequency-resolved measurements. Twenty university students aged 18-25 years (eight males) underwent the task while hemodynamic changes were monitored in the forehead using a newly developed NIRS device, capable of multi-channel and multi-distance recordings. We found significant task-related fluctuations for oxy- and deoxy-hemoglobin, highly coherent across shallow and deep tissue layers, corroborating the strong influence of surface hemodynamics on deep fNIRS signals. Importantly, after removing such surface contamination by linear regression, we show that the frontopolar cortex response to a mental math task follows an unusual inverse oxygenation pattern. We confirm this finding by applying for the first time an alternative method to estimate the neural signal, based on transfer function analysis and phasor algebra. Altogether, our results demonstrate the feasibility of using a rhythmic mental task to impose an oscillatory state useful to separate true brain functional responses from those of non-cerebral origin. This separation appears to be essential for a better understanding of fNIRS data and to assess more precisely the dynamics of the neuro-visceral link.

Keywords: extra-cranial contamination; fNIRS; forehead; frequency-domain analysis; mental arithmetic.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain* / physiology
  • Female
  • Hemodynamics / physiology
  • Hemoglobins / analysis
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared* / methods
  • Young Adult


  • Hemoglobins