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Brain Cogn. 2004 Apr;54(3):228-31.

Cognition is cool: Can hemispheric activation be assessed by tympanic membrane thermometry?

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  • 1Australian National University, School of Psychology, Building 39, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.


Hemispheric activation during cognitive tasks using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can be difficult to interpret, uncomfortable, and is not widely available. This study investigated whether tympanic membrane thermometry could be used as a broad measure of hemispheric activation. Infrared probes measured ear temperature continuously while subjects performed left or right hemisphere tasks. Temperature decreased in the left ear as activation increased in the left hemisphere during a verbal task, and in the right ear during a visuo-spatial task. When compared to a baseline, ear temperature measurements appeared to reflect relative changes in activation of the left and right hemispheres. Tympanic membrane thermometry therefore may be used as a broad marker of hemispheric activation. Its ability to demonstrate relative involvement of the two hemispheres during cognitive processes makes it especially useful in studies of hemispheric interaction. Its low cost, rapid set-up, and non-invasive nature also make it particularly attractive.

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