Monday, December 17, 2012

Neurosynth: FMRI Meta-Analysis Made Fun

A sample screenshot from Neurosynth

Have you ever sat in front of your computer, watching Step by Step reruns on Youtube while mindlessly munching Cheetos and wondering how you could instantaneously generate meta-analysis maps for neuroimaging data? If so, then Neurosynth is the tool for you. Developed primarily by researcher and nerd baller Tal Yarkoni, Neurosynth allows the user to generate meta-analysis maps on the fly for virtually any neuroimaging-related keyword that you can imagine, and possibly even the ones that you wouldn't even think to imagine. (For example, check out the topic words under Y: year, yellow, yielded (!), you, young, younger.)

Neurosynth is intuitive and approachable: Simply type in a keyword (such as "pain" or "cognitive control"), and it immediately generates a statistical map associated with that keyword. Different options include forward inference, or the consistency of that activation across studies, and reverse inference, or the probability that you would observe the reporting of a term given a particular location. These maps can then be output into NIFTI format, where they can be used for a variety of purposes, such as ROI masks. If you're particularly driven, and your mind not bemazed from Cheetos overdose, I am sure that you can find several other uses, as described on the website's FAQ. Other data from these maps include the studies that went into the meta-analysis, and even author names can be used as keywords; in this way, Neurosynth also serves as an excellent education tool for learning what specific regions are associated with which cognitive processes and which author's work.

In any case, I am always pleased when I come across tools like this, and I'm hoping that the authors continue to refine and expand this program; I think it will become increasingly useful in the future as more neuroimaging data is shared online. And as important as the future is, I should hasten to add that we must also look back to the past as well - from Mozart's Don Giovanni to Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy to Step by Step - in order to better understand ourselves and our rich heritage as human beings, and realize both from whence we have come, and, I hope, our future greatness.


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