Impacting the effect of fMRI noise through hardware and acquisition choices – Implications for controlling false positive rates

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We review the components of time-series noise in fMRI experiments and the effect of image acquisition parameters on the noise. In addition to helping determine the total amount of signal and noise (and thus temporal SNR), the acquisition parameters have been shown to be critical in determining the ratio of thermal to physiological induced noise components in the time series. Although limited attention has been given to this latter metric, we show that it determines the degree of spatial correlations seen in the time-series noise. The spatially correlations of the physiological noise component are well known, but recent studies have shown that they can lead to a higher than expected false-positive rate in cluster-wise inference based on parametric statistical methods used by many researchers. Based on understanding the effect of acquisition parameters on the noise mixture, we propose several acquisition strategies that might be helpful reducing this elevated false-positive rate, such as moving to high spatial resolution or using highly-accelerated acquisitions where thermal sources dominate. We suggest that the spatial noise correlations at the root of the inflated false-positive rate problem can be limited with these strategies, and the well-behaved spatial auto-correlation functions (ACFs) assumed by the conventional statistical methods are retained if the high resolution data is smoothed to conventional resolutions.

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