Imaging Action Choices – Provided by Aoife Fitzpatrick
Our lab at Bangor University is dedicated to better understanding how the brain controls our hands. We study the kinds of actions we perform countless times a day; so frequently, they tend to occur without conscious effort, and are often taken for granted. Grabbing a tissue, sipping our morning cup of coffee, pressing the elevator button, carrying our groceries – all considered simple daily activities, but require precise and intricate control of the hands for purposeful interaction.
To study these kinds of actions in the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, we ask participants to perform movements of the hand, wrist, arm, and shoulder to interact with objects. Performing these movements while keeping the head still is a major challenge. Even very small head movements dramatically disrupt the functional MRI signal, and make it very difficult for us to make sense of the information collected. Using MRI also raises issues surrounding participant comfort. The scanner bore is a restrictive space, and can provoke feelings of anxiety and discomfort among inexperienced participants. By offering participants the opportunity to familiarise themselves with this new space, the MRI Simulator plays an integral role in addressing these concerns, minimising movement-related data loss and promoting participant ease.
In a recent study from our lab, participants complete an MRI Simulation training session before continuing to the real scanner. The emulated MR environment allows participants to acclimatise to the new unusual space, and to practice our task while keeping their head still. We find that the absence of the magnetic field and the removal of MR associated safety concerns reduces potential anxiety and apprehension. We use MoTrak head-tracking software to monitor head rotation and displacement in real-time, and to provide feedback to participants about their performance. This information helps participants to appropriately adjust, to reduce head movement during our task.
Pre-scan training in the MRI Simulator, combined with our use of the MoTrak system, were instrumental to the success of our study. Our findings have important implications for the recovery of people who suffer from impaired mobility of their hands and arms. For these individuals, the most commonplace actions can be extremely effortful. Even small improvements in mobility can profoundly impact their life quality and independence.
For more information about Bangor University and the university lab, please visit the following links:
Hand and Brain Lab at Bangor University
Postgraduate training in the MRI domain