The NYU Center for Brain Imaging is a shared facility, dedicated to research and teaching in cognitive neuroscience.
The deepest mysteries facing science in the 21st Century concern the higher functions of the central nervous system: perception, memory, learning, language, emotion, personality, social interaction, decision-making, and motor control. Nearly all psychiatric and many neurological disorders are characterized by dysfunction in the neural systems that mediate these cognitive processes. The last decade has witnessed an explosion of new findings and techniques within the field of cognitive neuroscience. We can now identify specific locations in the brain where neuronal responses correlate with external or internal events such as the presentation of a sensory stimulus or the deployment of attention to a specific location in the visual field. In some cases we can even manipulate neuronal activity in a specific brain structure (using electrical or pharmacological techniques) to cause predictable changes in behavior. The most important achievements in this field have been and will continue to be dependent on new empirical methods and novel theoretical approaches, driven by interdisciplinary collaborations. One such new technique is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
FMRI has revolutionized neuroscience over the past decade. It is similar to clinical MRI, but instead of making pictures of the anatomy of the brain, fMRI allows us to measure and characterize brain function. It has enabled a new era of research into the function and dysfunction of the human brain, complementary to more invasive techniques for measuring neural activity in animals. To quantify the impact of this new technique, one need only look to the literature; in the past few years there has been a steady stream of about 1000 fMRI papers published each month in scientific journals. fMRI bridges the gap between psychology studies of human perception and cognition and electrophysiology studies of neural function in animals or brain slices. Unlike conventional neurophysiology, fMRI enables one to measure the spatiotemporal dynamics of neural activity simultaneously in different cortical areas, while taking advantage of the flexibility of working with human subjects, who can be instructed to perform a variety of complex behavioral tasks and report their phenomenological perceptual experiences.