Effects of spatial fMRI resolution on the classification of naturalistic movies
Studies involving multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) of BOLD fMRI data generally attribute the success of the information-theoretic approach to BOLD signal contrast on the fine spatial scale of millimeters facilitating the classification or decoding of perceptual stimuli. However, to date MVPA studies that have actually explored fMRI resolutions at less than 2 mm voxel size are rare and limited to small sets of unnatural stimuli (like visual gratings) as well as specific sub-regions of the brain, notably the primary somatosensory cortices. To investigate what spatial scale best supports high information extraction under more general conditions this study combined naturalistic movie stimuli with high-resolution fMRI at 7 T and linear discriminant analysis (LDA) of global and local BOLD signal patterns.
Contrary to predictions, LDA and similar classifiers reached a maximum in classification accuracy (CA) at a smoothed resolution close to 3 mm, well above the 1.2 mm voxel size of the fMRI acquisition. Maximal CAs around 90% were contingent upon global fMRI signal patterns comprising 4 k–16 k of the most reactive voxels distributed sparsely throughout the occipital and ventro-temporal cortices. A Searchlight analysis of local fMRI patterns largely confirmed the global results, but also revealed a small subset of brain regions in early visual cortex showing limited increases in CA with higher resolution. Principal component analysis of the global and local fMRI signal patterns suggested that reproducible neuronal contributions were spatially auto-correlated and smooth, while other components of higher spatial frequency were likely related to physiological noise and responsible for the reduced CA at higher resolution. Systematic differences between experiments and subjects suggested that higher CA was significantly correlated with more consistent behavior revealed by eye tracking. Thus, the optimal resolution of fMRI data for MVPA was mainly limited by physiological noise of high spatial frequency as well as behavioral (in-)consistency.