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What is the test-retest reliability of common task-fMRI measures? New empirical evidence and a meta-analysis

By Maxwell L Elliott, Annchen R. Knodt, David Ireland, Meriwether L Morris, Richie Poulton, Sandhya Ramrakha, Maria L Sison, Terrie E. Moffitt, Avshalom Caspi, Ahmad R Hariri

Posted 24 Jun 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/681700

Identifying brain biomarkers of disease risk is a growing priority in neuroscience. The ability to identify meaningful biomarkers is limited by measurement reliability; unreliable measures are unsuitable for predicting clinical outcomes. Measuring brain activity using task-fMRI is a major focus of biomarker development; however, the reliability of task-fMRI has not been systematically evaluated. We present converging evidence demonstrating poor reliability of task-fMRI measures. First, a meta-analysis of 90 experiments (N=1,008) revealed poor overall reliability (mean ICC=.397). Second, the test-retest reliabilities of activity in a priori regions of interest across 11 common fMRI tasks collected in the context of the Human Connectome Project (N=45) and the Dunedin Study (N=20) were poor (ICCs=.067-.485). Collectively, these findings demonstrate that common task-fMRI measures are not currently suitable for brain biomarker discovery or individual differences research. We review how this state of affairs came to be and highlight avenues for improving task-fMRI reliability.

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