Skip to main content
UC Davis MIND Institute

UC Davis MIND Institute

What is fMRI?

The acronym “fMRI” stands for functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. An MRI scanner takes an image of the brain by using a strong magnetic field. fMRI does not use any radiation, dyes, or contrast agents. Instead, fMRI looks at natural blood flow to different areas of the brain while a person does a specific task.

While a structural MRI focuses on the size and shape of different areas of the brain, a functional MRI looks at which areas a person is using at any moment to make a decision, pay attention, or access memory. While in the scanner, our study participants watch movies and/or use a mirror to view a computer screen and play computer games designed to activate specific areas of the brain. Our lab scans children and adults. We have a mock scanner at our facility that allows participants to get comfortable with the sounds and feel of the scanner before their actual scan.

Because the scanner is a giant magnet, it’s an important safety matter not to bring any metal into the scanning room. People with pacemakers, or metal rods or clips in their bodies are not eligible to be scanned. If you participate in one of our fMRI studies, you will be asked to fill out a safety checklist to make sure you are eligible for MRI, which you will confirm right before your scan. External metal, such as earrings or eyeglasses, must be removed before entering the scanning room. Participants who need corrective vision may wear contacts or use our nonmetal prescription goggles. Please inform the study staff ahead of time if you have any concerns or if you are unsure whether you have any metal in your body.