Future trends in neuroimaging: Neural processes as expressed within real-life contexts
Human neuroscience research has changed dramatically with the proliferation and refinement of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technologies. The early years of the technique were largely devoted to methods development and validation, and to the coarse-grained mapping of functional topographies. This paper will cover three emerging trends that we believe will be central to fMRI research in the coming decade. In the first section of this paper, we argue in favor of a shift from fine-grained functional labeling toward the characterization of underlying neural processes. In the second section, we examine three methodological developments that have improved our ability to characterize these neural processes using fMRI. In the last section, we highlight the trend towards more ecologically valid fMRI experiments, which engage neural circuits in real life conditions. We note that many of our cognitive faculties emerge from interpersonal interactions, and that a complete understanding of the cognitive processes within a single individual's brain cannot be achieved without understanding the interactions among individuals. Looking forward to the future of human fMRI, we conclude that the major constraint on new discoveries will not be related to the spatiotemporal resolution of the BOLD signal, which is constantly improving, but rather to the precision of our hypotheses and the creativity of our methods for testing them.