Brain Imaging Grants

Brain Imaging Grants provide CLA faculty members and students working in research areas related to brain imaging an opportunity to fund pilot projects with seed grants or to purchase items related to ongoing infrastructure needs. The Neuroimaging Research Associate, Phil Burton, promotes and facilitates neuroimaging research among faculty, students, and research staff within the College of Liberal Arts and is available to assist Brain Imaging Grant Applicants and awardees.

Neuroimaging Research Associate

CLA researchers in psychology, economics, political science, speech-language-hearing sciences, and other departments have historically studied human perception, language, emotion, and decision-making processes by measuring behaviors and making inferences about underlying mental processes. With recent rapid advances in noninvasive neuroimaging technology, these same researchers are becoming increasingly interested in measuring more directly the brain activity that underlies these processes. The CLA Neuroimaging Research Associate provides expertise as well as specialized hardware and software resources to facilitate this transition. Please note that these services are available to researchers in all CLA departments, including those that have not conventionally taken a scientific approach to studying the mind and brain. Services and resources provided include:

Assistance with study design: From safety issues associated with powerful MRI magnets to temporal offsets between stimulus presentation, neural activity, and the signal being measured in fMRI and ERP studies, there are numerous experimental design issues that must be considered in addition to those involved with behavioral measures.

Assistance with data analysis: Specialized software and analysis techniques are necessary for processing and statistically analyzing large and complex datasets. Software supported includes (but is not limited to): AFNI, Brain Voyager, MRIcron, Freesurfer, FSL, SPM.

Acquisition of specialized equipment: This position assesses neuroimaging needs to ensure state-of-the-art resources are available to allow CLA researchers to remain competitive. Past activities include: spearheading the proposal that resulted in the CLA Interdepartmental EEG Facility and contributing to the I3 grant that led to the purchase of the second 3T scanner at the Center for Magnetic Research (CMRR), along with the acquisition of peripheral equipment as needed for EEG and fMRI research. 

Promoting and facilitating neuroimaging research: The Neuroimaging Research Associate coordinates the MRI Users’ Group (MUG), which includes members from multiple University of Minnesota colleges and departments and meets monthly to discuss brain imaging research conducted at the university, and for the annual application for Interdisciplinary Graduate Group.

Spring 2023 Awards

Neural Correlates of Goal Prioritization and Conscientiousness

Primary Investigator: Colin DeYoung, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology

Conscientiousness is a consequential personality trait linked to many important outcomes, but little is known regarding the mechanisms that underlie it. Our lab has developed a theory linking conscientiousness to variation in a neural network known as the salience and ventral attention network (SVAN). In fMRI, we will use a stop-change task, which has been linked to conscientiousness through behavioral research, to test the hypotheses that the SVAN plays a crucial role in goal prioritization and that conscientiousness is associated with individual variation in task-related neural activity and connectivity in the SVAN.

Simultaneous Imaging of Bilateral Accumbens Dopamine Release During Reward

Primary Investigator: Nicola Grissom, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

Human neuroimaging studies often identify bilateral asymmetries in brain structure or function that may reflect differences in computation, neurodevelopment, or noise. Changes in brain lateralization have especially been replicated in autism, where animal models of associated gene variants can inform mechanisms. Although rodent neuroscience research has described lateral asymmetries in the brain, these are vastly understudied. However, novel techniques for optical imaging or neurotransmitter release in real time may present a new approach. Focusing on the robust signal produced by dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens during reward delivery or omission, we will ask whether there are differences in the response in left and right accumbens in neurotypical control animals versus animals carrying a gene variant associated with autism.

Neural Mechanisms of Speech and Voice Processing in Children and Adults

Primary Investigator: Yang Zhang, PhD, Professor, Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences


Philip C Burton, PhD, Neuroimaging Staff Scientist, College of Liberal Arts

Jason Wolff, PhD, Associate Professor, Dept. of Educational Psychology

Hui Zou, PhD, Professor, School of Statistics

Research in the PI's lab focuses on the auditory neuroscience of speech perception with three mutually informative lines of work, namely, developmental, cross-linguistic, and pathological. With prior support the PI has assembled an interdisciplinary team and maintained a productive record. The current proposal strives to continue RA support for completing six journal manuscript submissions and two NIH and NSF grant submissions in 2023, which involves additional data collection and continuing EEG, MEG, and fMRI data analysis to bring the research efforts to fruition and establish a sustainable research program supported by federal grants.

Cognitive Processes Supporting Verbal Recall and Language Production in Young Adults

Primary Investigator: Jayanthi Sasisekaran, PhD, Associate Professor, Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences

Few studies have made direct comparisons to investigate the extent to which cognitive processes supporting verbal recall effort influence the cognitive and sensorimotor processes supporting language production. The aim of this study is to compare a language production task and a verbal recall task using EEG power spectrum analysis. The findings will: (a) identify shared cognitive processes between the cognitive systems of language production and verbal recall and determine the extent to individual differences in verbal recall can influence such differences in language production; and (b) inform influential theoretical models that have guided research on verbal working memory and language production.

Comparison of MEG and EEG Data Quality for People with Coarse and Curly Hair

Primary Investigator: Scott Spohneim, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Co-Investigators: Cheryl Olman, PhD, Professor, Department of  Psychology;

Charisse B. Pickron, Assistant Professor, Institute of Child Development;

Victor J. Pokorny, EEG Technician, Department of Psychiatry, Cognition & Brain (CAB) Lab

Electroencephalogram (EEG) is widely used, both in the clinic and in research settings, to measure the electrical potentials produced by neural activity. Magnetoencephalogram (MEG) is a closely related methodology that does not require direct contact of sensors to the scalp. This property may be useful for measuring the real-time neural activity of people from ethnic groups with higher proportions of coarse and curly hair. We aim to test whether MEG provides superior data quality to EEG for individuals with longer and curlier hair. The long-term goal of such work is to progress toward a more inclusive and diverse neuroscience.

Development of BIPOC Recruitment Strategies for EEG Studies

Primary Investigator: Victor J. Pokorny, EEG Technician, Department of Psychiatry, Cognition & Brain (CAB) Lab

Co-Investigators: Cheryl Olman, PhD, Professor, Department of  Psychology;

Charisse B. Pickron, Assistant Professor, Institute of Child Development

BIPOC are disproportionately underrepresented in electroencephalogram (EEG) research which limits generalizability of findings and exacerbates existing health disparities driven by systemic racism. We propose collaborating with community members, outreach groups and BIPOC scientists to develop best practices for recruiting BIPOC for EEG studies in the Twin Cities.

Uncovering the Neural Correlates of Non-Optic Sight in Blindness using fMRI

Primary Investigator: Cheryl Olman, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychology

Patient NS is a 36-year-old woman who developed persistent and complex vision-like experiences after losing her sight to a retinal degeneration disease. These experiences, which are triggered through proprioception and haptic interaction with objects, are automatic, involuntary, and consistent with her environment. Pilot fMRI data shows significant activation in the visual cortex of NS when “seeing” 3D objects. Our aim is to determine how this compares to patterns of activation observed in sighted subjects when they view and imagine the same objects, and to determine what, if any, visual features are encoded in NS’s brain activity during her touch-induced visualizations.

Using High-Resolution fMRI to Assess Color Compensation in Anomalous Trichromacy

Primary Investigators: 

Katherine E.M. Tregillus, Postdoctoral Researcher, Engel Vision & Imaging Laboratory, Department of Psychology

Zoey J. Isherwood, University of Nevada, Reno


Stephen A. Engel, Professor, Department of Psychology

Cheryl Olman, PhD, Professor, Department of  Psychology

Michael A. Webster, University of Nevada, Reno

Karent T. Navarro, Ph.D Student, Department of Psychology

Sensory systems are highly adaptable and adjust to changes in the environment or the observer (e.g. during development, aging, or disease). The mechanisms and limits of this plasticity are poorly understood. We will examine the nature of long-term adaptations in human vision by examining how neural coding is compensated for in color deficiencies. Recent work suggests that cortical color responses are surprisingly similar in normal and color-deficient observers, and we will use high-resolution fMRI to further explore the locus and mechanisms of these similarities at a finer scale. This will advance our knowledge of the general mechanisms of neuroplasticity.

Assessing the Test-Retest Reliability of Neural Activations Underlying Generalized Conditioned Fear

Shmuel Lissek, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology

One central abnormality in clinical anxiety is the heightened tendency to transfer, or generalize fear from a learned danger-cue to perceptually resembling learned safety-cues. Neuroimaging studies have repeatedly identified neural hubs of the salience network (SN) and default network (DN) as brain-based markers of fear-generalization, supporting their potential diagnostic value. One essential feature of diagnostic measures is test-retest reliability: the ability of measures to produce repeatable results under similar conditions. The present proposal assesses the test-retest reliability of SN and DN markers of fear-generalization to determine their suitability for future use as brain-based diagnostic indicators for clinical anxiety.

Investigating Characteristics of Foveal Feedback Using Ultra-High Field fMRI

PI: Cheryl Olman, PhD, Professor, Department of  Psychology

Co-PIs: Kimberly Weldon, PhD

The human visual system is organized so that neural responses related to stimuli in central vision are transmitted to an area of cortex separate from responses related to peripheral stimuli. Despite this separation, fMRI data show that when observers perform a comparison task on peripheral objects, information about the objects’ shapes is fed back to the part of visual cortex representing the central visual field. Our aim is to take advantage of higher signal-to-noise ratio in ultra-high field fMRI to investigate how different tasks influence this phenomenon, laying the groundwork for future investigations into how iterative processing facilitates human vision.

Neural Mechanisms of Speech and Voice Processing in Children

PI: Professor Yang Zhang, PhD., Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences

Co-PIs: Philip C Burton, Ph.D., Neuroimaging Staff Scientist, College of Liberal Arts; Cheryl A. Olman, Ph.D., Associate Professor; Dept. of Psychology; Jason Wolff, PhD, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Educational Psychology; Maria Sera, Professor, Institute of Child Development; Hui Zou, PhD, Professor, School of Statistics; Suiping Wang, Professor of Psychology, South China Normal University

The present proposal aims to examine the role of complex auditory processing for extracting linguistic, affective and social signals in language acquisition. It requests supplementary RA support for completing four journal manuscript submissions and two major NIH and NSF grant submissions in 2020, which involves additional data collection and continuing EEG, MEG and fMRI data analysis.

Noninvasive Neuromodulation to Probe Causal Mechanisms of Conscious Threat Appraisal and Avoidance Generalization

PI: Professor Ryan Webler, Department of Psychology

Co-PIs: Hannah Berg, Graduate Student, Department of Psychology; Adrienne Manbeck, Graduate Student, Department of Psychology; Samuel Klein, Graduate Student, Department of Psychology; Scott Sponheim, Professor, Department of Psychiatry;  Ziad Nahas, Professor, Department of Psychiatry;  Shmuel Lissek, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology

Anxiety and trauma-related disorders are the most common class of psychiatric disorders. The maladaptive spread of conscious threat appraisal from a conditioned stimulus

(CS+) to similar stimuli (overgeneralization) represents a promising disease mechanism of clinical anxiety. To causally elucidate the neural substrates of this process, this study will interrogate a region implicated in threat appraisal generalization (dmPFC/dACC) via neuronavigated continuous theta-burst stimulation prior to a conditioned fear generalization paradigm. Pre-stimulation MRI and pre and post-stimulation EEG will reveal structural and functional connections of the dmPFC/dACC and shed light on the spatial and temporal dynamics of threat appraisal generalization.

A New Mixed E ect Model in fMRI Studies

Professor Lan Liu, School of Statistics

Professor Dennis Cook, School of Statistics

The importance of the proposed research lies in both the statistical methodology development and the interdisciplinary application. The proposed research provides theoretical justification and computational algorithm for simultaneous dimension reduction and efficient estimation in the high dimensional data setting. Specifically, this research incorporate the fact that voxels are highly correlated to achieve dimension reduction in mixed effect models. Our methods also help us to understand the gross similarities of brain activity on the population level as well as the intrinsic distinction within subjects.

Brain-Based Indicators of Risk for Addiction: A Prospective High-Risk Twin Family Study

Graduate student Sylia Wilson, Psychology

Addiction is associated with substantial negative outcomes and significant impairment in multiple domains of functioning. This project identifies premorbid deviations and altered neurodevelopment in brain circuitry that index risk for addiction and predict substance initiation/misuse, and uses a children of discordant twins study design to differentiate genetic from environmental mechanisms of parent-child transmission. Identifying brain-based vulnerability factors that predict addiction and the causal environmental risk factors conferred to children by addicted parents will guide etiological models and the most targeted and effective prevention and intervention efforts for at-risk children and their families.

Evaluating Prefrontal Dysconnectivity during Persecutory Sociocognitive Processes

Graduate student Anita Kwashie, Psychology

Professor Angus MacDonald III, Psychology

Persecutory delusions have devastating effects on the quality of life and social functioning of people with psychosis. However, there are disparate theories regarding its neural basis. We hypothesize that persecutory delusions arise from a failure of prefrontal network connectivity in integrating disparate cognitive processes. Through examining patient structural and functional connectivity data, in addition to behavioral social cognitive tasks, we aim to examine the relationship between prefrontal network dysconnectivity and social behaviors indicative of irrational persecutory ideation. The results of this study may identify potential targets for future intervention studies aiming to improve the effectiveness of psychosis symptom treatment.

Impacts of medical cannabis use on cognition, mental health and neural function

Monica Luciana, Ph.D., Department of Psychology

Paul Collins, Ph.D., Department of Psychology

Phil Burton, Ph.D., College of Liberal Arts

Bryon Mueller, Ph.D., Dept of Psychiatry

Susan Marino, Ph.D., Dept of Psychopharmacology

Recreational cannabis use is associated with cognitive, affective, and brain structural plus functional deviations, perhaps due to neural impacts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC; the primary constituent of cannabis plants). However, such deviations may not characterize medical users who differ in demographic and personality characteristics and ingest cannabidiol (CBD)- versus THC-based formulations. This project examines impacts of THC-versus CBD-dominant medical cannabis treatments on cognition, psychopathology, and neural activity in 18 pain patients tested prior to treatment and again four months later on a comprehensive neuroimaging and behavioral battery. Pre-versus post-treatment outcomes will be contrasted between groups to identify treatment-related impairments or improvements.