The situation or the person? Individual and task-evoked differences in BOLD activity

Taylor Bolt, Jason S. Nomi, Sierra A. Bainter, Michael W. Cole, Lucina Q. Uddin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Investigations of between-person variability are enjoying a recent resurgence in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research. Several recent studies have found persistent between-person differences in blood-oxygenated-level dependent (BOLD) activation patterns and resting-state functional connectivity. Conflicting findings have been reported regarding the extent to which (a) between-person or (b) within-person cognitive state differences explain differences in BOLD activation patterns. These discrepancies may arise due to statistical analysis choices, parcellation resolution, and limited sampling of task-fMRI datasets. We attempt to address these issues in a large-scale analysis of several task-fMRI paradigms. Using a novel application of multivariate distance matrix regression, we examine between-person and task-condition variability estimates across varying levels of “resolution”, from a coarse region-of-interest level to the vertex-level, and across different distance metrics. These analyses revealed that under most circumstances, differences in task conditions explained a greater amount of variance in activation map differences than between-person differences. However, this finding was reversed when comparing activation maps at a “high-resolution” vertex level. More generally, we observed that when moving from “low” to “high” resolutions, the variance explained by between-person differences increased while variance explained by task conditions decreased. We further analyzed the relationships among subject-level activation maps across all task-conditions using an unsupervised clustering approach and identified a superordinate task structure. This structure went beyond conventional task labels and highlighted those experimental manipulations across task conditions that produce contrasting versus similar whole-brain activation patterns. Overall, these analyses suggest that the question of the subject- versus task-effects on BOLD activation patterns is nontrivial, and depends on the comparison “resolution,” choice of distance metric, and the coding of task-conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2943-2954
Number of pages12
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number10
StatePublished - Jul 2019


  • individual differences
  • intersubject variability
  • task-fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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