Methods for computing the maximum performance of computational models of fMRI responses

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Computational neuroimaging methods aim to predict brain responses (measured e.g. with functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI]) on the basis of stimulus features obtained through computational models. The accuracy of such prediction is used as an indicator of how well the model describes the computations underlying the brain function that is being considered. However, the prediction accuracy is bounded by the proportion of the variance of the brain response which is related to the measurement noise and not to the stimuli (or cognitive functions). This bound to the performance of a computational model has been referred to as the noise ceiling. In previous fMRI applications two methods have been proposed to estimate the noise ceiling based on either a split-half procedure or Monte Carlo simulations. These methods make different assumptions over the nature of the effects underlying the data, and, importantly, their relation has not been clarified yet. Here, we derive an analytical form for the noise ceiling that does not require computationally expensive simulations or a splitting procedure that reduce the amount of data. The validity of this analytical definition is proved in simulations, we show that the analytical solution results in the same estimate of the noise ceiling as the Monte Carlo method. Considering different simulated noise structure, we evaluate different estimators of the variance of the responses and their impact on the estimation of the noise ceiling. We furthermore evaluate the effect the interplay between regularization (often used to estimate model fits to the data when the number of computational features in the model is large) and model complexity on the performance with respect to the noise ceiling. Our results indicate that when considering the variance of the responses across runs, the computing the noise ceiling analytically results in similar estimates as the split half estimator and approaches the true noise ceiling under a variety of simulated noise scenarios. Finally, the methods are tested on real fMRI data acquired at 7 Tesla.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1006397
Number of pages25
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2019



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