9.71 | Fall 2007 | Undergraduate

Functional MRI of High-Level Vision


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session


We are now at an unprecedented point in the field of neuroscience: We can watch the human brain in action as it sees, thinks, decides, reads, and remembers. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is the only method that enables us to monitor local neural activity in the normal human brain in a noninvasive fashion and with good spatial resolution. A large number of far-reaching and fundamental questions about the human mind and brain can now be answered using straightforward applications of this technology. This is particularly true in the area of high-level vision, the study of how we interpret and use visual information including object recognition, mental imagery, visual attention, perceptual awareness, visually guided action, and visual memory.

The goals of this course are to help students become savvy and critical readers of the current neuroimaging literature, to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the technique, and to design their own cutting-edge, theoretically motivated studies. Students will read, present to the class, and critique recently published neuroimaging articles, as well as write detailed proposals for experiments of their own. Lectures will cover the theoretical background on some of the major areas in high-level vision, as well as an overview of what fMRI has taught us and can in future teach us about each of these topics. Lectures and discussions will also cover fMRI methods and experimental design. A prior course in statistics and at least one course in perception or cognition are required.

Required Reading

Huettel, Scott A., Allen W. Song, and Gregory McCarthy. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. 1st ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2004. ISBN: 9780878932887.

Other Resources

Buy at MIT Press Farah, Martha J. Visual Agnosia. 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004. ISBN: 9780262062381.

———. The Cognitive Neuroscience of Vision. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2000. ISBN: 9780631214038.

Information About fMRI Methods, fMRI Physics, and Neuroanatomy

Useful Slides on fMRI Physics and Methods

Assignments and Exams

Assignments include a written essay, a paper critique, two class presentations, a term paper and class participation. All written assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day they are due. There is a midterm.


Written essay 10%
Paper critique 10%
Midterm 10%
Two class presentations (15% each) 30%
Term paper 30%
Class participation 10%


1 Introduction to fMRI and high-level vision  

Functional organization of the ventral visual pathway

Controversies concerning this organization

FMRI design/methods

How to critique an fMRI paper

2 – 4 page essay due at the beginning of class

(Essay details: Read Talbot, Margaret. “Duped.” New Yorker, July 2007 and then address whether and how you could test if fMRI can be used as a lie detector in the real world, what conditions would you need to test, could such an experiment actually be run, and how might you do it?)


Visual recognition, object shape, and the lateral occipital complex (LOC)

How to do a presentation

Basic neuroanatomy of the visual system

Written critique of an fMRI paper due at the beginning of class

Scene perception and the PPA

Class presentations


Face processing and the FFA

Class presentations


Visual attention

Class presentations


Visual awareness

Class presentations

8 The dorsal/parietal pathway: visual attention, visually guided action and number including visually guided action, number, attention, response selection, etc. Term paper outline due in class
9 In second half of class (if we don’t get to this topic earlier): classification methods, brain reading Midterm
10 Development and effects of experience on visual and extrastriate cortex  
11 Student presentations Project presentations and discussion
12 Student presentations (cont.) Project presentations and discussion

In class we will have one or more guest lectures, e.g.:

  • Evelina Fedorenko, on Neuroimaging of Language
  • Rebecca Saxe, on Neuroimaging of Theory of Mind
  • Basic MR Physics (if you are interested)

Final term papers due

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2007
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments with Examples
Presentation Assignments