The effect of the fMRI environment on performance of a resource demanding working memory task (N-back)
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As more and more psychological research utilises brain imaging technologies to understand the neural underpinnings of cognitive tasks, it is more important than ever to understand how these technologies impact on participants in experimental research. The current study aims to look at the effects of the fMRI environment on performance of a resource demanding working memory task. Thirty-two healthy participants completed a one-back and three-back task in a standard laboratory and an fMRI scanner simulator. A main effect of task was found as well as a significant interaction between task and environment. The interaction showed no difference in performance within the two environments for the one-back task. However, performance of the three-back task was worse in the scanner simulator condition than in the standard laboratory condition. Further analyses found that the order in which tasks were carried out influenced performance accuracy. Participants who performed the three-back task first in the scanner environment showed performance accuracy levels severely below that of performance in the standard laboratory condition. However, performance improved to laboratory levels if participants had experience of the task beforehand. The implications of these findings are discussed with regards to studying resource demanding working memory within an fMRI environment. Additionally, this study also supports research which suggests that tasks which require the use of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex will be most affected by scanning environment.