Current analytical techniques applied to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data require a priori knowledge or specific assumptions about the time courses of processes contributing to the measured signals. Here we describe a new method for analyzing fMRI data based on the independent component analysis (ICA) algorithm of Bell and Sejnowski (: Neural Comput 7:1129-1159). We decomposed eight fMRI data sets from 4 normal subjects performing Stroop color-naming, the Brown and Peterson work/number task, and control tasks into spatially independent components. Each component consisted of voxel values at fixed three-dimensional locations (a component "map"), and a unique associated time course of activation. Given data from 144 time points collected during a 6-min trial, ICA extracted an equal number of spatially independent components. In all eight trials, ICA derived one and only one component with a time course closely matching the time course of 40-sec alternations between experimental and control tasks. The regions of maximum activity in these consistently task-related components generally overlapped active regions detected by standard correlational analysis, but included frontal regions not detected by correlation. Time courses of other ICA components were transiently task-related, quasiperiodic, or slowly varying. By utilizing higher-order statistics to enforce successively stricter criteria for spatial independence between component maps, both the ICA algorithm and a related fourth-order decomposition technique (Comon : Signal Processing 36:11-20) were superior to principal component analysis (PCA) in determining the spatial and temporal extent of task-related activation. For each subject, the time courses and active regions of the task-related ICA components were consistent across trials and were robust to the addition of simulated noise. Simulated movement artifact and simulated task-related activations added to actual fMRI data were clearly separated by the algorithm. ICA can be used to distinguish between nontask-related signal components, movements, and other artifacts, as well as consistently or transiently task-related fMRI activations, based on only weak assumptions about their spatial distributions and without a priori assumptions about their time courses. ICA appears to be a highly promising method for the analysis of fMRI data from normal and clinical populations, especially for uncovering unpredictable transient patterns of brain activity associated with performance of psychomotor tasks.