Use of neuroimaging to measure neurocognitive engagement in health professions education: a scoping review

Serkan Toy, Dana D. Huh, Joshua Materi, Julie Nanavati, Deborah A. Schwengel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Purpose: To map the current literature on functional neuroimaging use in medical education research as a novel measurement modality for neurocognitive engagement, learning, and expertise development. Method: We searched PubMed, Embase, Cochrane, ERIC, and Web of Science, and hand-searched reference lists of relevant articles on April 4, 2019, and updated the search on July 7, 2020. Two authors screened the abstracts and then full-text articles for eligibility based on inclusion criteria. The data were then charted, synthesized, and analyzed descriptively. Results: Sixty-seven articles published between 2007 and 2020 were included in this scoping review. These studies used three main neuroimaging modalities: functional magnetic resonance imaging, functional near-infrared spectroscopy, and electroencephalography. Most of the publications (90%, n = 60) were from the last 10 years (2011–2020). Although these studies were conducted in 16 countries, 68.7% (n = 46) were from three countries: the USA (n = 21), UK (n = 15), and Canada (n = 10). These studies were mainly non-experimental (74.6%, n = 50). Most used neuroimaging techniques to examine psychomotor skill development (57%, n = 38), but several investigated neurocognitive correlates of clinical reasoning skills (22%, n = 15). Conclusion: This scoping review maps the available literature on functional neuroimaging use in medical education. Despite the heterogeneity in research questions, study designs, and outcome measures, we identified a few common themes. Included studies are encouraging of the potential for neuroimaging to complement commonly used measures in education research and may help validate/challenge established theoretical assumptions and provide insight into training methods. This review highlighted several areas for further research. The use of these emerging technologies appears ripe for developing precision education, establishing viable study protocols for realistic operational settings, examining team dynamics, and exploring applications for real-time monitoring/intervention during critical clinical tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2016357
JournalMedical education online
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • Electroencephalography
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • functional near-infrared spectroscopy
  • health professions education
  • medical education
  • neurocognitive engagement
  • neuroimaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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