We depend on volunteer research subjects for many of our studies. By volunteering you will be helping MIT researchers to understand the working of the human brain and the causes of many brain disorders – work that may eventually contribute to the development of new treatments.
Please join our mailing list to hear about behavioral and brain imaging studies at the McGovern Institute.
We work with subjects of all ages and backgrounds, including healthy subjects as well as clinical patients, who are normally recruited through our clinical collaborators. This page provides general information for prospective volunteers for brain imaging experiments at MIT. Additional information on specific studies will be provided by the researchers conducting the study.
Please note that studies conducted at MIT are for research purposes only. Research scans are not a substitute for clinical diagnostic tests, and we cannot provide clinical advice to volunteer subjects.
Take a virtual tour of the imaging center!
In this five-minute video, imaging center director John Gabrieli takes viewers on a tour of the facility and describes what volunteers should expect when they participate in a study at the Martinos Imaging Center.
For more information about volunteering at the Martinos Imaging Center, please follow the links below:
In accordance with Federal regulations, MIT policy requires that all subjects must give written consent before participating in any research study. The consent documents will explain the purpose of the study, the potential risks, and the ways in which the data may be used. Volunteers will have an opportunity to discuss the form with the researchers and to ask any questions before deciding whether to give their consent.
The privacy of volunteer subjects is an important concern, and research at the center is conducted in compliance with HIPAA regulations that govern privacy of research volunteers. No private health information is stored within the imaging center. When subjects are scanned, they are assigned an ID number, and this number alone is used to identify their scan data. No other identifying data are attached to the scan files. The code that matches the ID number to the subject’s identities is stored only in print, not electronically, and the print records are securely stored by the individual researchers.
Safety of MRI
The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedures performed at MIT are considered safe for most people, provided they do not have any metal implants other than dental fillings. All subjects are screened and a metal detector is used before entering the scanner.
MRI scanners produce powerful magnetic fields that exert strong forces on any ferrous metal object. Therefore no metal objects are allowed to enter the scanning area. Items of clothing with metal attachments must be removed, and hospital-style gowns are available if needed. Metal jewelry including body piercing must also be removed. Eye shadow and mascara must also be avoided, since some types contain materials that can interact with the magnetic field.
Some people may experience discomfort in the narrow space within the MRI machine, especially given the need to lie still for extended periods of time. The scanner can also produce loud noises during operation, which some people may find alarming. Hearing protection in the form of ear plugs must be used to reduce noise exposure during the scan and prevent potential hearing loss.
Safety of EEG and MEG
Eletctroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) are passive recording methods that do not involve exposing subjects to any external electrical or magnetic fields, or to unusual noise levels. There are no known hazards associated with either EEG or MEG.
What to expect from an MRI scan procedure
A person undergoing a MRI scan lies on a horizontal table that slides into the scanner. The subject’s head rests in a support frame to reduce head movement. Many studies involve performing tasks while inside the scanner, typically responding to visual stimuli that are projected via a mirror mounted over the head. There is a 2-way intercom system that allows researchers and subjects to communicate with each other if necessary.
Most people do not experience any discomfort during the scan, but an emergency squeeze alarm is provided. If this is activated we will immediately stop the experiment and bring the person out of the scanner.
What to expect from an electroencephalograpy (EEG) procedure
EEG is normally performed in the upright seated position and does not require confinement inside a machine. Prior to starting the experiment there is a setup period of about 30 minutes during which the recording electrodes are fitted to the scalp. A saline-containing gel is used to facilitate electrical contact. This gel is messy but harmless, and is washed away at the end of the experiment (washing facilities are provided within the imaging center). Most EEG experiments are performed within a soundproof booth, from which the subject can communicate with the researchers via an audiovideo link.
Read more about volunteering for EEG studies here.
What to expect from a magnetoencephalograpy (MEG) procedure
MEG is normally performed in the upright seated position. The MEG scanner is housed inside a special magnetically shielded room, with a heavy door similar in appearance to a bank vault. This is done to block external magnetic fields that would otherwise interfere with the very sensitive scanning procedure. Prior to entering the shielded room, subjects are asked to remove metal items that can interfere with the recording, and they may also be demagnetized with a wand that resembles an airport scanner. Inside the room, subjects can communicate with the experimenter via a CCTV link. For some studies an experimenter may accompany the subject inside the room.
Other information for volunteer subjects
Because our scanning facilities are heavily booked, it is very important to arrive at the appointed time. If you need to cancel, please inform the researcher on your study as soon as possible, so that the scanning time slot can be reallocated to another research study.
A typical study visit lasts about 2 hours, although some may be either shorter or longer. Some studies may require several visits. Subjects may be asked to perform behavioral tests in the laboratory (usually involving a computer screen) in addition to undergoing a brain scan.
The lab temperature cannot be adjusted so it is best to wear layers. For EEG studies that involve fitting the system to the head, we recommend clothes that can be removed without being pulled over the head (eg cardigan or sweatshirt with zipper).
Subjects are compensated for their time at rates that vary by study and typically range from $10-30/hr. Depending on the study, you may receive cash compensation at the time of your visit or you may be asked to fill out a form to receive a check payment by mail.
Research with children
The neuroimaging procedures used at MIT are considered safe for young children as well as adults. During an MRI scanning session, the parent or caregiver normally remains in the control room with a full view of the scanner. You will see your child but not vice versa. Young children are typically accompanied by a researcher while in the scanning room. For some studies, the child may first practice in the mock scanner, a full size model that simulates the appearance and sounds of the real scanner. This allows children to become more comfortable in the scanning environment, and to practice any tasks that they may be asked to perform in the real scanner.
During an EEG scanning session, the child normally sits inside the recording booth, with an audio/video connection to researchers and caregivers outside. Young children may be accompanied by a researcher inside the room.
We strive to provide a comfortable and relaxing environment for our young subjects and their families. A play area is provided and at the end of the session the child will also receive a picture of his/her own brain.
The MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences has a subject recruitment email list. You can sign up here to be alerted to specific volunteer opportunities as they arise. We work with subjects of all ages and backgrounds, and inclusion/exclusion criteria are stated for every study. Many studies require subjects of a specific age, gender or handedness, and some may specify attributes such as native language, ethnic origin, or other demographic factors. Studies that involve visual stimuli normally require subjects to have normal vision or vision that is corrected with colorless contact lenses.