Improved assessment of significant activation in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI): use of a cluster-size threshold

Magn Reson Med. 1995 May;33(5):636-47. doi: 10.1002/mrm.1910330508.


The typical functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) study presents a formidable problem of multiple statistical comparisons (i.e., > 10,000 in a 128 x 128 image). To protect against false positives, investigators have typically relied on decreasing the per pixel false positive probability. This approach incurs an inevitable loss of power to detect statistically significant activity. An alternative approach, which relies on the assumption that areas of true neural activity will tend to stimulate signal changes over contiguous pixels, is presented. If one knows the probability distribution of such cluster sizes as a function of per pixel false positive probability, one can use cluster-size thresholds independently to reject false positives. Both Monte Carlo simulations and fMRI studies of human subjects have been used to verify that this approach can improve statistical power by as much as fivefold over techniques that rely solely on adjusting per pixel false positive probabilities.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Probability