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Study Sheds Light On What The Cerebellum Actually Does In Human Brains

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A photo of the brain. The cerebellum is responsible for more than just movements after all. A new research revealed that the region of the brain long ignored by scientists performs "higher thinking."  ( Pete Linforth | Pixabay )

A study has found that the cerebellum, a part of the brain ignored by researchers, plays an integral role in just about everything a human does.

From speech to emotions, a study by a team from Washington University in St. Louis revealed that the cerebellum is responsible for higher brain function in people.

The findings were published in the journal Neuron.

The Cerebellum's Function

The cerebellum is located in the underside of the brain. Scientists initially thought that the area was responsible for movements, but it does so much more.

"The biggest surprise to me was the discovery that 80 percent of the cerebellum is devoted to the smart stuff," stated Nico Dosenbach, senior author of the study and an assistant professor at the Washington University in St. Louis. "Everyone thought the cerebellum was about movement. If your cerebellum is damaged, you can't move smoothly ­— your hand jerks around when you try to reach for something."

Dosenbach described the cerebellum as "a quality check" for both movement and thoughts.

Digging Deeper

Dosenbach is a founding member of the Midnight Scan Club, a group of neuroscientists who scanned their own brains using an MRI. For the study, postdoctoral researcher and study co-author Scott Marek looked at the data from the group and compared it to an existing analysis of the cerebral cortex.

Marek found that just like the cerebral cortex, only 20 percent of the cerebellum is used for movement. The rest are used for higher thinking, including for daydreaming, recalling memories, decision-making, and planning.

Brain's Quality Control

Further analysis revealed that the cerebellum is always the last stop in neurologic circuits. The researchers measured the timing of brain activity and found that the signals received through sensory systems were processed in the cerebral cortex then passed to the cerebellum.

Dosenbach compared the process to an assembly line where the cerebellum is the one at the end, inspecting the product before it gets dispatched. The cerebellum, he said, is where thoughts and actions are refined.

Thus, people with damage to the cerebellum might appear uncoordinated, have speech problems, or experience difficulties performing motor tasks. In addition, the cerebellum, which is sensitive to alcohol, might explain why intoxicated people make poor decisions.

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