Ethological Action Maps: A Paradigm Shift for the Motor Cortex

Trends Cogn Sci. 2016 Feb;20(2):121-132. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2015.10.008. Epub 2015 Nov 25.


The map of the body in the motor cortex is one of the most iconic images in neuroscience. The map, however, is not perfect. It contains overlaps, reversals, and fractures. The complex pattern suggests that a body plan is not the only organizing principle. Recently a second organizing principle was discovered: an action map. The motor cortex appears to contain functional zones, each of which emphasizes an ethologically relevant category of behavior. Some of these complex actions can be evoked by cortical stimulation. Although the findings were initially controversial, interest in the ethological action map has grown. Experiments on primates, mice, and rats have now confirmed and extended the earlier findings with a range of new methods.

Keywords: grasping; intracortical stimulation; motor cortex; parietal cortex; reaching.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology