Probing depression, schizophrenia, and other psychiatric disorders using fNIRS and the verbal fluency test: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Michael K. Yeung (Corresponding Author), Jingxia Lin

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Accessible neuroimaging tools that can identify specific frontal lobe dysfunction associated with psychiatric disorders could be useful for improving disease diagnosis and prognosis and treatment development. Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), in conjunction with the verbal fluency test (VFT), has emerged as an inexpensive and convenient method for understanding psychiatric disorders. However, questions remain regarding the specificity and uniqueness of fNIRS measurements for different disorders and the soundness of the methods applied previously. To address these knowledge gaps, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of fNIRS studies using the VFT to probe psychiatric disorders. A literature search was conducted using PubMed and PsycINFO on October 27, 2020. Overall, 82% and 49% of the 121 included studies reported significantly reduced changes in oxyhemoglobin concentrations (HbO) and significantly fewer produced words during the VFT in psychiatric patients compared with healthy controls, respectively. For most psychiatric disorders, changes in HbO are more sensitive than changes in deoxyhemoglobin concentrations and VFT performance to detect psychopathologies. In addition, meta-analyses based on the proportion of channels that exhibited significant differences in HbO changes between patients and controls and on the effect sizes of group differences consistently showed that for major depression and schizophrenia, hypoactivation could be found across the frontotemporal regions, but its topographical distribution is disorder-specific. Thus, the fNIRS-VFT paradigm holds promise for understanding, detecting, and differentiating psychiatric disorders, and has the potential for developing accessible neuroimaging biomarkers for different psychiatric disorders. The findings are discussed with regard to the strengths and weaknesses of the applied methods, following by recommendations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)416-435
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2021


  • fNIRS
  • Frontal lobe
  • Psychiatry
  • Psychopathology
  • Verbal fluency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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