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In this paper a model selection algorithm for a nonlinear system identification method is proposed to study functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) effective connectivity. Unlike most other methods, this method does not need a pre-defined structure/model for effective connectivity analysis. Instead, it relies on selecting significant nonlinear or linear covariates for the differential equations to describe the mapping relationship between brain output (fMRI response) and input (experiment design). These covariates, as well as their coefficients, are estimated based on a least angle regression (LARS) method. In the implementation of the LARS method, Akaike's information criterion corrected (AICc) algorithm and the leave-one-out (LOO) cross-validation method were employed and compared for model selection. Simulation comparison between the dynamic causal model (DCM), nonlinear identification method, and model selection method for modelling the single-input-single-output (SISO) and multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) systems were conducted. Results show that the LARS model selection method is faster than DCM and achieves a compact and economic nonlinear model simultaneously. To verify the efficacy of the proposed approach, an analysis of the dorsal and ventral visual pathway networks was carried out based on three real datasets. The results show that LARS can be used for model selection in an fMRI effective connectivity study with phase-encoded, standard block, and random block designs. It is also shown that the LOO cross-validation method for nonlinear model selection has less residual sum squares than the AICc algorithm for the study.