Functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) is a promising method for monitoring cerebral hemodynamics with a wide range of clinical applications. INIRS signals are contaminated with systemic physiological interferences from both the brain and superficial tissues, resulting in a poor estimation of the task related neuronal activation. In this study, we use the anatomical resolution of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to extract scalp and brain vascular signals separately and construct an optically weighted spatial average of the fMRI blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal for characterizing the scalp signal contribution to fNIRS measurements. We introduce an extended superficial signal regression (ESSR) method for canceling physiology-based systemic interference where the effects of cerebral and superficial systemic interference are treated separately. We apply and validate our method on the optically weighted BOLD signals, which are obtained by projecting the fMRI image onto optical measurement space by use of the optical forward problem. The performance of ESSR method in removing physiological artifacts is compared to i) a global signal regression (GSR) method and ii) a superficial signal regression (SSR) method. The retrieved signals from each method are compared with the neural signals that represent the 'ground truth' brain activation cleaned from cerebral systemic fluctuations. We report significant improvements in the recovery of task induced neural activation with the ESSR method when compared to the other two methods as reflected in the Pearson R2 coefficient and mean square error (MSE) metrics (two tailed paired t-tests, p <0.05). The signal quality is enhanced most when ESSR method is applied with higher spatial localization, lower inter-trial variability, a clear canonical waveform and higher contrast-to-noise (CNR) improvement (60%). Our findings suggest that, during a cognitive task i) superficial scalp signal contribution to fNIRS signals varies significantly among different regions on the forehead and ii) using an average scalp measurement together with a local measure of superficial hemodynamics better accounts for the systemic interference inherent in the brain as well as superficial scalp tissue. We conclude that maximizing the overlap between the optical pathlength of superficial and deeper penetration measurements is of crucial importance for accurate recovery of the evoked hemodynamic response in (NIRS recordings. (C) 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.