The neural network for tool-related cognition: An activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis of 70 neuroimaging contrasts

Cogn Neuropsychol. 2016 May-Jun;33(3-4):241-56. doi: 10.1080/02643294.2016.1188798. Epub 2016 Jun 30.


The ability to recognize and use a variety of tools is an intriguing human cognitive function. Multiple neuroimaging studies have investigated neural activations with various types of tool-related tasks. In the present paper, we reviewed tool-related neural activations reported in 70 contrasts from 56 neuroimaging studies and performed a series of activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analyses to identify tool-related cortical circuits dedicated either to general tool knowledge or to task-specific processes. The results indicate the following: (a) Common, task-general processing regions for tools are located in the left inferior parietal lobule (IPL) and ventral premotor cortex; and (b) task-specific regions are located in superior parietal lobule (SPL) and dorsal premotor area for imagining/executing actions with tools and in bilateral occipito-temporal cortex for recognizing/naming tools. The roles of these regions in task-general and task-specific activities are discussed with reference to evidence from neuropsychology, experimental psychology and other neuroimaging studies.

Keywords: Tool; action; meta-analysis; semantic representation; tool-use.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Semantics*