Who wants a free brain scan? Assessing and correcting for recruitment biases in a population-based sMRI pilot study

Mary Ganguli, Ching Wen Lee, Tiffany Hughes, Beth E. Snitz, Jennifer Jakubcak, Ranjan Duara, Chung Chou H. Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Neuroimaging research is usually conducted in volunteers who meet a priori selection criteria. Selection/volunteer bias is assumed but cannot be assessed. During an ongoing population-based cohort study of 1982 older adults, we asked 1702 active participants about their interest in undergoing a research brain scan. Compared with those not interested, the 915 potentially interested individuals were significantly younger, more likely to be male, better educated, generally healthier, and more likely to be cognitively intact and dementia-free. In 48 of the interested individuals, we conducted a previously reported pilot structural magnetic resonance imaging (sMRI) study modelling mild cognitive impairment (MCI) vs. normal cognition, and Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) = 0.5 vs. CDR = 0, as a function of sMRI atrophy ratings. We now compare these 48 individuals (1) with all interested participants, to assess selection bias; (2) with all who had been asked about their interest, to assess volunteer bias; and (3) with the entire study cohort, to assess attrition bias from those who had dropped out before the question was asked. Using these data in propensity score models, we generated weights which we applied to logistic regression models reanalyzing the data from the pilot sMRI study. These weighted models adjusted, in turn, for selection bias, interest/volunteer bias, and attrition bias. They show fewer regions of interest to be associated with MCI/ CDR than were in the original unweighted models. When study participants are drawn from a well-characterized population, they can be compared with non-participants, and the information used to correct study results for potential bias and thus provide more generalizable estimates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)204-212
Number of pages9
JournalBrain Imaging and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 27 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Epidemiology
  • Propensity scores
  • Standard error
  • Survey sampling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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