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Valid population inference for information-based imaging: Information prevalence inference

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In multivariate pattern analysis of neuroimaging data, 'second-level' inference is often performed by entering classification accuracies into a t-test vs chance level across subjects. We argue that while the random effects analysis implemented by the t-test does provide population inference if applied to activation differences, it fails to do so in the case of classification accuracy or other 'information-like' measures, because the true value of such measures can never be below chance level. This constraint changes the meaning of the population-level null hypothesis being tested, which becomes equivalent to the global null hypothesis that there is no effect in any subject in the population. Consequently, rejecting it only allows to infer that there are some subjects in which there is an information effect, but not that it generalizes. This statement is supported by theoretical arguments as well as simulations. We review possible alternative approaches to population inference for information-based imaging, converging on the idea that it should not target the mean, but the prevalence of the effect in the population. One method to do so, 'permutation-based information prevalence inference using the minimum statistic', is described in detail and applied to empirical data.


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