The EEG and MRI (Kraków site) teams have just completed the collection of the data for the Action. It was a tremendous collaborative effort between the Institute of Psychology (Jagiellonian University), and LOBI (Laboratory of Brain Imaging, Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology). Meet Katarzyna Hat, a PhD student at the Institute of Psychology JU who guided us through the MRI logistics, science and magic behind the Action.
Samuel Nowak: What data did you collect?
Katarzyna Hat: In the project, we collected two types of data: MRI and behavioural. We studied a wide range of behavioural paradigms that can provide us with a better insight into human consciousness. In order to study cognitive functions, we also reached for questionnaires and computer tasks performed in our laboratory.
And your goal is….
We aim to connect this data with the human brain’s neural structure. In other words, we want to find the link explaining differences in particular aspects of human behaviour by the differences we can measure in the neural system of an individual. We focus on different parts of the brain, gathering data that allow us to investigate individual regions of the brain as well as their interactions, both on anatomical and functional levels. This approach provides us with a complex picture of the neuroarchitecture of the brain and allows us to link it with a broad range of behavioural parameters.
How did you collect the data? How many participants have you scanned/studied?
We reached a goal of 300 participants. Given how many traits we’re studying simultaneously, such a big sample was necessary. First, each participant was interviewed to ensure there were no contraindications for their participation. Next, we asked them to fill in online questionnaires. Then, they underwent a 1-hour long MRI scan. Finally, they went through over a dozen hours of behavioural testing spread over a couple of days. In total, the hours of testing can be given in a few thousand.
I guess such a vast scientific operation required months of preparations…
And a whole team of scientists on different levels of their careers – undergraduates volunteers, research assistants, PhD students, postdocs, PIs, dedicated to data collection for over a year. And we made it!
Krakow site is one of the leading testing sites and the main one (Aarhus, Denmark) to finalise data collection. What’s the data significance for the COST project?
Now, we can analyse the data not only on a single-project level, but we can also start combining data acquired at both sites. Furthermore, our behavioural battery was established through the international collaboration of researchers from multiple scientific institutions, which fulfils COST Actions’ objectives.
What’s the next step (for the team)? How will data be analysed?
That’s a very good question, Samuel, indeed a good question… Our team has already started the preprocessing of the MRI data that will be available to all the parties involved. We already have the first derivatives, and we are currently checking their quality. The next ones are expected soon. In the meantime, behavioural data are getting distributed into smaller teams to be analysed. Soon we wish to start linking behavioural and MRI measures and hopefully publish the first results. We will begin with single sub-projects and progressively integrate gathered information to form a better and more complex picture of the studied mental processes.
And I have to ask: why the unicorn brings the collection to an epic end?
Because one spending too much time on MRI acquisition needs some magic in her life! Also, a ‘unicorn’ can be understood as ‘‘something highly desirable but difficult to find or obtain”, and this is precisely what this Action is! A broad international collaboration of experts working together towards a common goal is still something rare and difficult to achieve. Yet, suppose we want our studies to show more meaningful results and a more complex picture of the phenomenon in question. In that case, we need to go beyond small samples and single studies built around ideas harvested in individual institutions.