Understanding the miniature map of your body in the brain

Ddid you know that a cartoonish little version of your body lives in your brain? It may sound strange, but it’s true!

It’s called the homunculus and it’s responsible for mapping your body.

What’s interesting is that different parts of your body take up different amounts of space in the homunculus depending on how sensitive they are. For example, your face and hands take up a disproportionate amount of space compared to your back or stomach.

You can find the homunculus in the somatosensory cortexpart of the brain responsible for processing and interpreting sensory information from the body.

Cortical homunculus. Primary somatosensory cortex (Brodmann area 3, 1 and 2) shown in red. Source: Polygon data comes from BodyParts3D. Polygon data was generated by Database Center for Life Science (DBCLS). CC BY-SA 2.1 JP

How was this miniature map of the body discovered?

Years of research and experimentation on animals and humans culminated in 1937 when Wilder Penfield and Edwin Boldrey published their findings after operating under local anesthesia on awake patients.

By stimulating different parts of the cortex of 126 patients, they were able to elicit movements and sensations in specific body parts and record verbal reports from the patients about what they were experiencing.

This allowed the researchers to create our deformed humanoid friend.

This map was an important contribution to the field of neurology and neuroscience. It helped researchers understand the relationship between brain function and movement, and to study the effects of brain damage on movement and sensation in corresponding body parts.

The homunculus has also been used to explain some neurological conditions, such as Phantom limb pain (PLP)which occurs when a person experiences pain or other sensations in a limb that has been amputated.

Even after a limb is amputated, the neural pathway that carries sensory input from the limb to the brain remains. So while the physical limb is no longer there to send signals to the brain, the brain’s representation of the limb, the homunculus, still exists and can cause patients to experience pain.

By understanding the role of the homunculus in these conditions, researchers can gain important insights into the functioning of the human brain. As our understanding of the brain continues to evolve, the homunculus will likely continue to be an important tool in the study of neuroscience for years to come.

So the next time you look in the mirror, remember that there’s a little cartoon version of you living in your brain!


This article, along with others I will be publishing this week, was created for Brain Awareness Week 2023. My goal for this week is to arouse your curiosity, share valuable knowledge, inspire and raise awareness of factors that matter can affect our brain health.

Do you want to stay informed? Follow me on Medium! Let’s dive into the fascinating world of the brain together.



Catani, M. (2017). A little man of some importance. Brain, 140(11), 3055-3061. https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awx270

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