fMRI Colloquium Gets Good Turnout

by theaudioprof on March 2, 2009

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More than three years ago I started to think about getting involved with fMRI research when IU installed their magnet devoted to cognitive research.  Although the magnet is housed in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, it is a facility that by design is inter-disciplinary and has a goal of involving faculty with applicable research agendas from across the campus.  So, with the willingness of IU’s Psychological & Brain Science faculty member Tom James, I was able to attend classes in an introductory course on neuroimaging.  Plus, attending weekly meetings of the IUNG (Neuroimaging Group) where both studies and issues are discussed has resulted in at least a glimmer of understanding surrounding fMRI studies.

And this past Friday there was a milestone of sorts, when Annie Lang, Sungkyoung Lee, and I were able to present a colloquium on our fMRI research as part of the T600 series.

It was one of the first times that I had been asked to explain the physics behind MRI measurement to an audience.  And I realized how difficult it is to do it (and how much more I have to learn about it!).  But, about 30 graduate students and faculty were in the audience to hear about the three studies that are in varying stages of completion.  img_1459-small

The closest to being finished enough to send on for publication is a study looking at differences in neural activation while processing animal compared to human faces–then those faces are either animated or actual photographs AND which vary across a positive and negative emotional domain.  This is a study that Sungkyoung has been the lead research for, and she did a very nice job of presenting the findings.  As is often the case, I wrestle with wanting to tell much of the story before it goes through the rigor of peer review.  But, here’s a shot of Sungkyoung explaining the design of the study.

We are right in the early stages of collecting data on another study, one that looks at how college students’ trait motivation activation impacts their brain activation when seeing references to  “taboo” products–like alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and sex.

What is “trait motivation activation”?  Think of it this way…living things have two innate emotion systems:  the appetitive and the aversive.  The appetitive system is your approach system and the aversive is the avoid system.  They work independently of one another AND the extent to which they are each ‘turned on’ when you are just sitting in your chair differs from one person to the next.  So, those who tend to be HIGH APPETITIVE but LOW AVERSIVE can be thought of as RISK TAKERS.  On the other hand, LOW APPETITIVE and HIGH AVERSIVE are RISK AVOIDERS.

Now, consider (for example) if you show college students the following two pictures during a series of imagesbbn-coke-smallbb-bud-small:

The picture on the left is a “taboo” product for college students (who are under 21) while the one on the right is not.  But it sure looks an awful lot like the image on the left…same size and shape, same color scheme, etc.

My colleague Annie Lang has a lot of physiological data suggesting that these two types of products are processed quite differently by the brain.  And now the first question we are trying to answer is whether there are actually different  areas of the brain that become activated while processing them.  So far, the preliminary data look suggestive and interesting.

For example, here’s a picture of one of the investigator’s activation while they processed taboo pictures compared to non-taboo pictures:

annie_tp-ntp2And although the anatomical locations of the brain regions are not as clear as we’ll like them to be after we collect subjects from more data…it is encouraging to see that there is a substantial difference in blood flow during the processing of taboo products.  More details coming as the science continues…

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