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fMRI experiment design: looking at memento mori

Left: Arcimboldo Giuseppe (1527-1593) – La Vanita. Right: Yermolai Kamezhenkov (1790) A Portrait of a Young Lady: E. N. Likhachyova

We designed an experiment with me as a subject, looking at representations of memento mori while in a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner to record my brain activity via functional MRI (fMRI). For this experiment we used two sets of images. Set ‘A’ comprised memento mori and vanitas works from a range of time periods and featured both paintings and sculptural objects. Set ‘B’ were the ‘control’ images. These were paintings and objects, again produced across a range of times in keeping with the other set, Set ‘B’ were all figurative, with subjects who were very much alive as opposed to Set ‘A’ that featured the dead or images of dead and alive human subjects. Before each image was shown I saw a linguistic cue, a short text, either “Live the now”, or, “You will die”. An image was then randomly selected and displayed for 7 seconds. Though we never used images from each set shown side-by-side in our experiment, I have used illustrated this post with an image from each set.

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