Complexity in problem solving fMRI

Neural correlates of Instance Complexity (HREC: 1749616.3 )


We would like to invite you to participate in a project examining the neural processing of computational complexity (i.e., task difficulty). To do this, our research uses a combination of simple decision-making tasks and neuroimaging techniques. In doing this we will contribute to the current knowledge of how people make complex decisions and the underlying neural processes. The study is funded by the University of Melbourne.


What I will be asked to do?

In this project, you will be required to provide demographic information, participate in a simple decision-making task (both inside and outside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner), and complete a questionnaire. The decision-making task involves solving a computational problem, and will be conducted in a single session not exceeding 3.5 hours’ duration. Of that time, you will spend about 90 minutes in an MRI scanner; during this time your brain will be scanned, and your heart rate and breathing will be monitored and recorded. To compensate you for your time, you will be reimbursed a show-up fee of $10 and additional monetary compensation based on performance. The total payment (show-up fee plus performance reward) will range from $10 to $100.


What are the risks?

Some people (approximately 3-5%) find lying in the MRI scanner causes claustrophobia. If you are aware that you suffer from claustrophobia, you can choose not to participate in this study. While participating, if you do experience discomfort during your scan, you will be able to communicate immediately with the radiographer or experimenter to ask to be removed from the scanner. In case you experience discomfort while in the scanner, the radiographer will be able to provide immediate assistance and refer you to a clinician if appropriate.

Additionally, some people may notice warmth and/or minor tingling during some scans. This is nothing to worry about, and is caused by the magnetic fields generated by the scanner. Once again, if you feel uncomfortable, you can ask to be removed from the scanner.

Other type of factors like pregnancy and implanted pacemakers might put you at risk in the MRI scanner. To help us determine your suitability for an MRI scan, and to ensure your safety, you will be asked to fill out a screening form.

If you experience any distress as a result of any aspect of the study, you can contact a psychology counselling service such as LifeLine (13 11 14) or the University of Melbourne Psychology Clinic (Tel: 03 9035 5180; email:


How does MRI work, and what might it find?

An MRI scan does not use any harmful ionising radiation; instead it relies on magnetic fields and radio waves. Currently there are no known adverse effects of MRI magnetic fields and radio waves on humans. Please note that the images produced by the high field MRI scanners (such as the 7 Tesla scanner at the Melbourne Brain Centre Imaging Facility) are not certified for clinical diagnosis.

Very occasionally (in approximately 2% of cases), the images of normal participants may show potential anatomical abnormalities. It is necessary to do further tests to establish whether a potential abnormality is truly present. Some findings may have no negative implications for your health, and (if confirmed) are called incidental. However, in about 1% of scans, the potential abnormality may represent a risk to your health, and (if confirmed) it would be called an adverse finding. In many cases, there are effective treatments available for adverse findings, but sometimes there are adverse findings for which no effective treatment is currently available.

If during the acquisition of your MRI images a potentially significant finding is observed by the MRI operator, then the MRI operator will send your scan data to a clinical radiologist for interpretation. You will only be contacted if the radiologist deems that the imaging findings require further clinical follow-up. We will contact you within one month of the scan if this is the case. In general, we will not contact you about the scan results unless there is an abnormality (‘no news is good news’).

Further investigation and treatment of potential adverse findings is unable to be funded by Melbourne Brain Centre Imaging Unit or by the researchers conducting the study. Knowledge of an incidental finding may also have implications for your private health insurance.


How will my confidentiality be protected?

Any identifiable data which you provide will be stored in password-protected files, and will only be accessed by the researchers named above, or by trained staff at the Melbourne Brain Centre Imaging Unit. The information you provide will be safeguarded subject to any legal requirements, and will be destroyed at least 5 years after final publication of results. Any publications or presentations resulting from this study will be based on de-identified data only.

Upon publication, we intend to submit de-identified behavioural and neuroimaging data to an open access repository where other researchers can use it to verify and extend on our findings, or to conduct new research. Taking this step will maximize the scientific usefulness of the data you provide to us.


What if I want to withdraw from the research?

Participation in this research is completely voluntary. You are free to withdraw at any time and to withdraw any unprocessed data previously supplied. This would have no effect on your relationship with any member of the Department of Finance at the University of Melbourne. It would not affect your grades, assessment or any treatment that you would otherwise be eligible for.


Where can I get further information?

If you have not understood any of this information, please contact any of the researchers listed above. This research project has been approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee of The University of Melbourne. If you have any concerns or complaints about the conduct of this research project, which you do not wish to discuss with the research team, you should contact the Manager, Human Research Ethics, Research Ethics and Integrity, University of Melbourne, VIC 3010. Tel: +61 3 8344 2073 or Email: All complaints will be treated confidentially. In any correspondence please provide the name of the research team or the name or ethics ID number of the research project.


How do I agree to participate?

Please note that if you have previously taken part in one of our “Knapsack” or “Problem-solving” experiments, you cannot sign up for this experiment.  Feel free to email if you are unsure.

If you decide to participate, please send an email to .

Human ethics approval

This study has been approved by the University of Melbourne Human Research Ethics Committee (project ID: HREC: 1749616.3).

Brain, Mind and Markets Lab
Department of Finance
The University of Melbourne
Victoria 3010
Phone: +61 3 9035 9950