Over the past 25 years, functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) has emerged as a valuable tool to study brain function, and it is in younger participants where it has found, arguably, its most successful application. Thanks to its infant-friendly features, the technology has helped shape research in the neurocognitive development field by contributing to our understanding of the neural underpinnings of sensory perception and socio-cognitive skills. Furthermore, it has provided avenues of exploration for markers of compromised brain development. Advances in fNIRS instrumentation and methods have enabled the next step in the evolution of its applications including the investigation of the effects of complex and interacting socio-economic and environmental adversities on brain development. To do this, it is necessary to take fNIRS out of well-resourced research labs (the majority located in high-income countries) to study at-risk populations in resource-poor settings in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Here we review the use of this technology in global health studies, we discuss the implementation of fNIRS studies in LMICs with a particular emphasis on the Brain Imaging for Global Health (BRIGHT) project, and we consider its potential in this emerging field.
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