Sample size evolution in neuroimaging research: an evaluation of highly-cited studies (1990-2012) and of latest practices (2017-2018) in high-impact journals release_u5s4varwanet7cq2p55i3uznma

by Denes Szucs, John PA Ioannidis


We evaluated 1038 of the most cited structural and functional (fMRI) magnetic resonance brain imaging papers (1161 studies) published during 1990-2012 and 273 papers (302 studies) published in top neuroimaging journals in 2017 and 2018. 96% of highly cited experimental fMRI studies had a single group of participants and these studies had median sample size of 12, highly cited clinical fMRI studies (with patient participants) had median sample size of 14.5, and clinical structural MRI studies had median sample size of 50. The sample size of highly cited experimental fMRI studies increased at a rate of 0.74 participant/year and this rate of increase was commensurate with the median sample sizes of neuroimaging studies published in top neuroimaging journals in 2017 (23 participants) and 2018 (24 participants). Only 4 of 131 papers in 2017 and 5 of 142 papers in 2018 had pre-study power calculations, most for single t-tests and correlations. Only 14% of highly cited papers reported the number of excluded participants whereas about 45% of papers in 2017 and 2018 reported excluded participants. Targeted interventions from publishers and funders could facilitate increase in sample sizes and adherence to better standards.
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Release Date 2019-10-17
Publisher Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

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