With the advent of portable and wearable solutions, in addition to its intrinsic performance in the presence of movements, fNIRS is currently the ideal solution for studies that intend to evaluate cortical actitiy within naturalistic environments.
fNIRS adds another dimension to studies investigating cognitive functions and mental states, since it is a portable technique not too sensitive to motion artifacts. Attention processes, inhibition mechanisms, and working memory, as well as other cognitive states, may be studied in natural environments with a fast setup preparation.
Motor execution and fine movements depend on coordinated action of brain function and peripheral muscles. Its portability, ease of use in natural environments, and compatibility with bioelectric measures make fNIRS an optimal choice for studies investigating motor execution.
Near-infrared spectroscopy is non-invasive and particularly well suited for evaluating activity in the prefrontal cortex, one of the regions involved in emotional processing. More specific areas related to emotional processing, such as the frontopolar cortex, are easily accessible for measurements by NIRS, making the technique particularly suited to explore the emotional domain.
The ability of fNIRS to measure two or more subjects simultaneously, enables researchers to study cortical activity in response to social interaction. This way, a new dimension is added to studies investigating topics such as empathy, competitive and cooperative tasks, mother-child interactions and truth telling.
Speech and Language
Realistic experiments involve verbalized speech. As such, they should account for the muscle movements that are required for this process, and the eventual artifacts that these may cause. The robustness of fNIRS in the presence of muscle movements as well as its portability in comparison to other imaging techniques, render this technology a very promising tool for studying speech and language under a great variety of conditions.
fNIRS brings connectivity studies to a new level. The hyperscanning modality enables both online feedback as well as offline analysis regarding within- and between-subjects connectivity. In addition to that, fNIRS fast sampling rate for hemodynamic states allows for a quick update rate of connectivity feedback, resulting into enhanced subject engagement.
The portability of fNIRS, its performance in presence of general movements and the feasibility it offers in exploring cortical responses in social environments, represent the greatest advantages for studies on brain functional changes during development of infants and children.
Infant monitoring is based on continuous measurements of cortical activity within a population that may be characterized by its constant movement. The low sensitivity of fNIRS to motion artifacts make this technique an ideal choice for studies intended to explore the many unknown features of the infant brain.
A key interest of neuroeconomics research is value-based decision making, in which the prefrontal lobe is an important player. Although prefrontal activity has been explored with fMRI, the restricted environment does impose a limit to the number of applications that can be explored. fNIRS may represent a conspicuous improvement to the field, as it enables outdoor measurements that can be combined with simultaneous Eye-Tracking.
fNIRS determines changes in hemoglobin oxygenation in the human head non-invasively, and has the advantage of being more robust to motion artifacts than fMRI. In addition, the application of fNIRS is more convenient for somatosensory research, especially when measuring patients with chronic pain, as measurements can take place on a more comfortable bench compared to the MR scanner bench.
In order to render measurements more robust, information may be provided by different modalities. Many groups appreciate multi-modal applications with fNIRS. Typical combinations are fNIRS and EEG, Eye-Tracking or fMRI, but tDCS and TMS have also been applied to concurrently modulate brain activity.
Visual Stimulation Auditory System
As fNIRS measurements are characterized by silent operations, innumerous possibilities of studies intended to explore cortical activation in the presence of controlled sounds can be achieved. Besides a better understanding of auditory processes in the brain, this may facilitate critical improvements on current solutions for cochlear implants.
Brain-Computer Interface (BCI)
Given its great performance in the presence of muscle movements and the possibility of setting up measurements in realistic environments, fNIRS presents itself as an ideal candidate for the acquisition of cortical signals as reliable and representative inputs for Brain-Computer Interface investigations.
Event-Related Optical Signal
fNIRS is potentially the only imaging method that may be capable to measure both hemodynamics and neuronal activity. The Event-Related Optical Signal, caused by changes in light scattering from activated neurons, is observable when employing high frequency sampling with fNIRS.
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