Brain and Behavior

Motor Behavior and Intentional Action

What role does the basal ganglia play?

The basal ganglia refers to a group of brain structures which include the caudate nucleus, the putamen and the globus pallidus. This is an evolutionarily ancient brain region that precedes the evolution of the cortex and is found in mammals, birds, and even reptiles. The basal ganglia mediates simple motor programs. These are packets of movements that serve a purpose—riding a bike, throwing a ball, etc. Some of these automatic behaviors are learned (e.g., riding a bike) and some are unlearned, based on genetics. The unlearned motor programs are also known as fixed action patterns. In humans, the basal ganglia is heavily involved with learned motor programs. Although complex behaviors are learned via the frontal lobe, with practice the behavior becomes more automatic and the basal ganglia comes into play.


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