Method matters: An empirical study of impact in cognitive neuroscience

Lesley K. Fellows, Andrea S. Heberlein, Dawn A. Morales, Geeta Shivde, Sara Waller, Denise H. Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


A major thrust of cognitive neuroscience is the elucidation of structure-function relationships in the human brain. Over the last several years, functional neuroimaging has risen in prominence relative to the lesion studies that formed the historical core of work in this field. These two methods have different strengths and weaknesses. Among these is a crucial difference in the nature of evidence each can provide. Lesion studies can provide evidence for necessity claims, whereas functional neuroimaging studies do not. We hypothesized that lesion studies will continue to have greater scientific impact even as the relative proportion of such studies in the cognitive neuroscience literature declines. Using methods drawn from systematic literature review, we identified a set of original cognitive neuroscience articles that employed either functional imaging or lesion techniques, published at one of two time points in the 1990s, and assessed the effect of the method used on each article's impact across the decade. Functional neuroimaging studies were cited three times more often than lesion studies throughout the time span we examined. This effect was in large part due to differences in the influence of the journals publishing the two methods; functional neuroimaging studies appeared disproportionately more often in higher impact journals. There were also differences in the degree to which articles using one method cited articles using the other method. Functional neuroimaging articles were less likely to include such cross-method citations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)850-858
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2005


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