About this Research Topic
Standard functional imaging paradigms make use of highly stereotyped conditions, including the presentation of simple stimuli (e.g. single words, geometrical shapes, simple sounds, etc.) and performance of very specific tasks, typically over hundreds of trials. This approach has the advantage that it permits controlling for many factors and variables and the gaining of a detailed understanding of many brain functions.
Nonetheless, the question arises to what extent analogous mechanisms operate in more realistic, life-like situations. The latter entail complex, dynamic and meaningful sensory input, co-occurring cognitive processes, as well as active behavior primarily guided by the participant's will rather than task-instructions. This emphasizes the role of “situations” and “contexts," rather than task-based rules, and that of individual traits contributing to behavior and brain functioning.
In recent years, neuroimaging studies have started using more realistic and ecologically-valid approaches. While the appeal of this novel line of investigation is unquestionable, this research entails many methodological and theoretical issues: working with complex and naturalistic stimuli often implies giving up some experimental control, which opens the question about the possible contribution of uncontrolled variables.
What are the possible ways of addressing this? Should our efforts go toward attempting to formally characterize as many aspects as possible of these novel experimental situations, or should we radically change the way we construct theories of brain functioning and how we link theories and experimental data?
In this Research Topic we aim to collect contributions of researchers, who confronted themselves with these issues and sought innovative ways to address them. We welcome manuscripts that include imaging studies making use of naturalistic stimuli to address specific neuroscientific questions (e.g. about sensory processing, memory, attention, etc), work presenting novel methodological and/or analytical approaches to deal with such complex datasets, as well as position-papers on the more general issue of using naturalistic stimuli for functional imaging studies. We hope that the Research Topic will provide the imaging community with an overview of the state-of-the-art in this field, and will stimulate the development of new directions for future research.
Keywords: fMRI, naturalistic, context, ecological-validity, complexity