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Front Hum Neurosci. 2019 Mar 11;13:28. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2019.00028. eCollection 2019.

A Non-cognitive Behavioral Model for Interpreting Functional Neuroimaging Studies.

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Magnetic Resonance Research Center, Department of Radiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, United States.
Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University, New Haven, CT, United States.


The dominant model for interpreting brain imaging experiments, which we refer to as the Standard Cognitive Model (SCM), assumes that the brain is organized in support of mental processes that control behavior. However, functional neuroimaging experiments of cognitive tasks have not shown clear anatomic segregation between mental processes originally proposed by this model. This failing has been blamed on limitations in imaging technology and non-linearity in the brain's implementation of these processes. However, the validity of the underlying cognitive models used to describe the brain has rarely been questioned or directly tested against imaging results. We propose an alternative model of brain function, that we term the Non-cognitive Behavioral Model (NBM), which correlates observed human behavior directly with measured brain activity without making assumptions about intervening cognitive processes. Our model derives from behavioral psychology but is extended to include brain activity, in addition to behavior, as observables. A further extension is the role of neuroplasticity, as opposed to innate cognitive processes, in developing the brain's support of cognitive behavior. We present the theoretical basis with which the SCM maps cognitive processes onto functional magnetic resonance and positron emission tomography images and compare and contrast with the NBM. We also describe how the NBM can be used experimentally to study how the brain supports behavior. Two applications are presented that support the usefulness of the NBM. In one, the NBM use of the total functional imaging signal (not just the differences between states) provides a stronger correlation of neural activity with the behavioral state of consciousness than the SCM approach in both anesthesia and coma. The second example reviews studies of facial and object recognition that provide evidence for the NBM proposal that neuroplasticity and experience play key roles in the brain's support of recognition and other behaviors. The conclusions regarding neuroplasticity are then generalized to explain the incomplete functional segregation observed in the application of the SCM to neuroimaging.


behavioral psychology; cognitive psychology; consciousness; functional magnet resonance imaging; neuroenergetics; object recognition

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