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Simulated Driving and Brain Imaging: Combining Behavior, Brain Activity, and Virtual Reality

  • Kara N. Carvalho, Godfrey D. Pearlson, Robert S. Astur and Vince D. Calhoun



Virtual reality in the form of simulated driving is a useful tool for studying the brain. Various clinical questions can be addressed, including both the role of alcohol as a modulator of brain function and regional brain activation related to elements of driving.


We reviewed a study of the neural correlates of alcohol intoxication through the use of a simulated-driving paradigm and wished to demonstrate the utility of recording continuous-driving behavior through a new study using a programmable driving simulator developed at our center.


Functional magnetic resonance imaging data was collected from subjects while operating a driving simulator. Independent component analysis (ICA) was used to analyze the data. Specific brain regions modulated by alcohol, and relationships between behavior, brain function, and alcohol blood levels were examined with aggregate behavioral measures. Fifteen driving epochs taken from two subjects while also recording continuously recorded driving variables were analyzed with ICA.


Preliminary findings reveal that four independent components correlate with various aspects of behavior. An increase in braking while driving was found to increase activation in motor areas, while cerebellar areas showed signal increases during steering maintenance, yet signal decreases during steering changes. Additional components and significant findings are further outlined.


In summary, continuous behavioral variables conjoined with ICA may offer new insight into the neural correlates of complex human behavior.


Corresponding author

Please direct all correspondence to: Vince Calhoun, PhD,Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center, Institute of Living, 200 Retreat Ave., Hartford, CT 06106; Tel 860-545-7768; E-mail:


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Simulated Driving and Brain Imaging: Combining Behavior, Brain Activity, and Virtual Reality

  • Kara N. Carvalho, Godfrey D. Pearlson, Robert S. Astur and Vince D. Calhoun


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