Children’s Head Motion During fMRI Tasks is Heritable and Stable over Time


Head motion during fMRI scans negatively impacts data quality, and as post-acquisition techniques for addressing motion become increasingly stringent, data retention decreases. Studies conducted with adult participants suggest that movement acts as a relatively stable, heritable phenotype that serves as a marker for other genetically influenced phenotypes. Whether these patterns extend downward to childhood has critical implications for the interpretation and generalizability of fMRI data acquired from children. The authors examined factors affecting scanner motion in two samples: a population-based twin sample of 73 participants (ages 7-12 years) and a case-control sample of 32 non-struggling and 78 struggling readers (ages 8-11 years), 30 of whom were scanned multiple times. Age, but not ADHD symptoms, was significantly related to scanner movement. Movement also varied as a function of task type, run length, and session length. Twin pair concordance for head motion was high for monozygotic twins and moderate for dizygotic twins. Cross-session test-retest reliability was high. Together, these findings suggest that children’s head motion is a genetically influenced trait that has the potential to systematically affect individual differences in BOLD changes within and across groups. We discuss recommendations for future work and best practices for pediatric neuroimaging.


Engelhardt, L. E., Roe, M. A., Juranek, J., DeMaster, D., Harden, K. P., Tucker-Drob, E. M., & Church, J. A. (2017). Children’s head motion during fMRI tasks is heritable and stable over time. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 25, 58–68. doi:10.1016/j.dcn.2017.01.011