Cognitive neuroscience studies in humans have enabled decades of impactful discoveries but have primarily been limited to recording the brain activity of immobile participants in a laboratory setting. In recent years, advances in neuroimaging technologies have enabled recordings of human brain activity to be obtained during freely moving behaviours in the real world. Here, we propose that these mobile neuroimaging methods can provide unique insights into the neural mechanisms of human cognition and contribute to the development of novel treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders. We further discuss the challenges associated with studying naturalistic human behaviours in complex real-world settings as well as strategies for overcoming them. We conclude that mobile neuroimaging methods have the potential to bring about a new era of cognitive neuroscience in which neural mechanisms can be studied with increased ecological validity and with the ability to address questions about natural behaviour and cognitive processes in humans engaged in dynamic real-world experiences.
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This work was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under award numbers R01MH124761 and UO1NS103780 (to N.S.), K99NS126715 (to M.S.) and F30MH125534 (to S.L.M.). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. N.S. was also supported by the McKnight Foundation (Technological Innovations in Neuroscience Award) and the Keck Foundation (UCLA DGSOM Junior Faculty Award). The authors thank Leonardo Christov-Moore and Martin Seeber for helpful feedback on the manuscript, and Tyler Wishard, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Jason Whisman and Emi Jenkens-Drake for contributing to the design and creation of figure illustrations. Lastly, the authors also thank all members of the Suthana Lab for helpful discussions and particularly Sonja Hiller for additional general assistance.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Nature Reviews Neuroscience thanks A. Clarke, H. Spiers and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Stangl, M., Maoz, S.L. & Suthana, N. Mobile cognition: imaging the human brain in the ‘real world’. Nat Rev Neurosci 24, 347–362 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41583-023-00692-y
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