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Comparison between NIRS and fMRI

December 14th, 2015

I have a friend who has been using fMRI for more than 10 years and now a professor. He heard NIRS might be a good technology to measure human brain but knew little about it. So what is the difference between NIRS and fMRI? This is probably a common question for fMRI researchers who are looking for alternative ways to do brain imaging.

So here is some side-by-side comparison between NIRS and fMRI:


Measurement both
oxy- and
That means you get two number per location at a time in NIRS
Temporal resolution 10Hz 0.5Hz In fMRI TR is usually 2s
Spatial resolution 30mm 2-4mm
Measurable region Only
Real-time application easy difficult
Real-life application easy difficult such as exercise, natural conversation etc
Hyperscanning application easy difficult
Cost Cheaper
NIRS price largely depends on the number of channels
Maintenance Cost Cheap Expensive NIRS has ~0 maintenance cost; fMRI usually requires a on-site expert
Portability Can
No There are some portable NIRS devices available
Signal to noise ratio lower higher
Subjects with Dental Braces and Retainers, or ear rings Safe might not be safe
Subjects with Pacemaker or metals in brain Safe unsafe
Author: Xu Cui Categories: brain, nirs Tags:
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About the author:

Xu Cui is a human brain research scientist in Stanford University. He lives in the Bay Area in the United States. He is also the founder of Stork (smart publication alert app), PaperBox and BizGenius.


He was born in He'nan province, China. He received education in Beijing University(BS), University of Tennessee (Knoxville) (MS), Baylor College of Medicine (PhD) and Stanford University (PostDoc). Read more ...
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