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Computational Intelligence and Neuroscience
Volume 2017 (2017), Article ID 5491296, 12 pages
Research Article

Comparison of Brain Activation during Motor Imagery and Motor Movement Using fNIRS

1Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
2School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
3Department of Family and Community Health, University of Pennsylvania, 3737 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
4Division of General Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 3401 Civic Center Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA

Correspondence should be addressed to Hasan Ayaz; ude.lexerd@zaya.nasah

Received 9 December 2016; Revised 18 February 2017; Accepted 6 April 2017; Published 4 May 2017

Academic Editor: Mikhail A. Lebedev

Copyright © 2017 Alyssa M. Batula et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Motor-activity-related mental tasks are widely adopted for brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) as they are a natural extension of movement intention, requiring no training to evoke brain activity. The ideal BCI aims to eliminate neuromuscular movement, making motor imagery tasks, or imagined actions with no muscle movement, good candidates. This study explores cortical activation differences between motor imagery and motor execution for both upper and lower limbs using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Four simple finger- or toe-tapping tasks (left hand, right hand, left foot, and right foot) were performed with both motor imagery and motor execution and compared to resting state. Significant activation was found during all four motor imagery tasks, indicating that they can be detected via fNIRS. Motor execution produced higher activation levels, a faster response, and a different spatial distribution compared to motor imagery, which should be taken into account when designing an imagery-based BCI. When comparing left versus right, upper limb tasks are the most clearly distinguishable, particularly during motor execution. Left and right lower limb activation patterns were found to be highly similar during both imagery and execution, indicating that higher resolution imaging, advanced signal processing, or improved subject training may be required to reliably distinguish them.