Copyright ©  Numerical Cognition Laboratory

Thank you for your interest and participation in research studies conducted by the Numerical Cognition Laboratory! We run different types of studies in order to understand how children develop basic numeracy and arithmetic skills.  Some of our studies occur within schools. In other studies, children come to our laboratory at Western University to complete computer, as well as paper and pencil activities.  For our brain studies, we use a special machine called a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner to investigate how the brain works when children or adults are doing number or math tasks.  

For studies conducted in our laboratory, you will find commonly asked questions with answers below to make your visit more
convenient and fun!

What is an MRI scanner?

An MRI uses a strong magnetic field to create images of biological tissues, such as the brain.  Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) takes pictures of your brain while you complete different activities, such as adding and subtracting or simple numeracy tasks.  The fMRI is a non-invasive tool used to understand how the brain works.  It DOES NOT require participants to consume any radioactive tracers. The MRI scanner that will be used is pictured below.

What happens when I participate in an fMRI study?

When you agree to participate in one of our experiments, you will be invited to visit the University twice with your child(ren).

During the first visit, children will participate in a practice MRI scan.  This visit will help your child become more familiar with procedures during the MRI.  This session occurs at Westminster Hall located at 361 Windermere Road.  At this location we have an MRI simulator to show your child what it will be like to be in the real MRI scanner, as shown below. 

During the second visit, children will participate in a real fMRI scan, which occurs at the
Robarts Research Institute. 

Is an fMRI scan safe?

The Food & Drug Administration (USA) has indicated that for clinical diagnosis an ‘insignificant’ risk is associated with human MRI exposure at the intensities used in our studies. Current Canadian guidelines follow the USA guidelines. Although very rare, injury and deaths have occurred in MRI units from unsecured metal objects being drawn at high speeds into the magnet or from internal body metal fragments that the participant was unaware or had not informed MRI staff. To minimize this possibility, it is essential that you complete a screening questionnaire and that any participant carries absolutely no metal objects with them when they go into the scanner.

It is always very difficult to prove the complete absence of any unwanted side effects and there is a small chance that an as yet unidentified problem may occur because of our relatively limited experience with the MRI exposure of children at these magnetic intensities. The intermediate and long term effects of exposure of the human brain to MRI at the intensities used in this study are unknown. This may be particularly important when the brain is still undergoing active growth.  That being said, MRI machines are used all the time in the hospitals for clinical purposes, and they are used all the time for research purposes.

Does having an fMRI scan hurt?

The fMRI scan DOES NOT hurt.  It can make loud noise.  We will give your child some ear plugs to wear to make the noise softer. This noise level is not dangerous. Indeed many of our participants have found it so comforting that they have sometimes fallen

What should I wear on the day of my fMRI scan?

Before the fMRI scan, we recommend wearing comfortable clothing.  Avoid wearing clothing with a lot of metal accessories; however, jeans with zippers can be worn in the scanner. It is important that all metal jewelry, hair clips, coins, or toys are removed from the body before the fMRI scan. 

Can everyone participate in fMRI studies?

Because the scanner uses high magnetic fields to measure brain activity, anyone who has metal implants, braces, or pace makers cannot participate in fMRI studies.

What are the benefits to participating in studies at the Numerical Cognition Laboratory?

The overarching aim of our research is to understand how the brain processes numbers and what calculating and solving math problems looks like in the brain.  Understanding how children acquire these skills may have future educational implications, and could help us understand how to identify and help children with math learning disabilities in the future. There are no direct or immediate benefits to participating in our studies.  But we hope that in the future, what we learn can translate into better teaching practices.

How long are the sessions?

The length of the testing sessions depends on the study, but they can range between 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Where do I park at the University?

When participating at a study at Westminster Hall, the researcher will provide you with a parking pass that will allow you to park in spaces in front of the building.  However, if those spaces are full, there is a parking lot located on the East side of the building where you can also park for free with the provided parking pass.

If you are coming for a fMRI scan at Robarts Research Institute, there is a visiting parking lot located on the North side of the University Hospital. When entering the parking lot, you will need to take a parking voucher.  You can park in any free space within that lot. At the end of the session, we will provide you with a parking validation pass so your parking will be free. Once you have parked in the visiting parking lot, you can meet the researcher in the lobby of the University Hospital.

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact your researcher at anytime.


Westminister Hall Main Entrance

University Hospital Lobby Entrance

Participant Sitting on the MRI Simulator