Stability of representational geometry across a wide range of fMRI activity levels
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© 2018 Elsevier Inc. Fine-grained activity patterns, as measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), are thought to reflect underlying neural representations. Multivariate analysis techniques, such as representational similarity analysis (RSA), can be used to test models of brain representation by quantifying the representational geometry (the collection of pair-wise dissimilarities between activity patterns). One important caveat, however, is that non-linearities in the coupling between neural activity and the fMRI signal may lead to significant distortions in the representational geometry estimated from fMRI activity patterns. Here we tested the stability of representational dissimilarity measures in primary sensory-motor (S1 and M1) and early visual regions (V1/V2) across a large range of activation levels. Participants were visually cued with different letters to perform single finger presses with one of the 5 fingers at a rate of 0.3–2.6 Hz. For each stimulation frequency, we quantified the difference between the 5 activity patterns in M1, S1, and V1/V2. We found that the representational geometry remained relatively stable, even though the average activity increased over a large dynamic range. These results indicate that the representational geometry of fMRI activity patterns can be reliably assessed, largely independent of the average activity in the region. This has important methodological implications for RSA and other multivariate analysis approaches that use the representational geometry to make inferences about brain representations.