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This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
FMRI data observed under a given experimental condition may be decomposed into two parts: the average effect and the deviation of single replications from this average effect. The average effect is represented by the mean activation over a specific condition. The deviation from this average effect may be decomposed into two components as well: systematic variation due to known empirical factors and pure measurement error. In most fMRI designs deviations from mean activation may be treated as measurement error. Nevertheless, often deviation from the average also may contain systematic variation that can be distinguished from simple measurement error. In these cases, the average fMRI signal may provide only a coarse picture of real brain activation. The larger the variation within-condition, the coarser the average effect and the more relevant is the impact of deviations from it. Systematic deviation from the mean activation may be examined by defining a set of parametric regressors. Here, the applicability of parametric methods to refine the evaluation of fMRI studies is discussed with special emphasis on (i) examination of the impact of continuous predictors on the fMRI signal, (ii) control for variation within each experimental condition and (iii) isolation of specific contributions by different features of a single complex stimulus, especially in the case of a sampled stimulus. The usefulness and applicability of this method are discussed and an example with real data is presented.