most famous for its role in movement, the brain's own little brain - or cerebellum - is implicated in other cognitive functions too. an impressive, large brain scanning study now documents the cerebellum's role in memory for emotive images  

original article: Fastenrath et al., 2022 (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), reported in: The Independent by Vishwam Sankaran on 10th October 2022

this story was in episode 32 #emotion #image #picture #cerebellum #memory

the error bar says

in recent episodes, the error bar has been a grumpy old academic, slumped in a dirty armchair, biting statistical chunks out of the brain science papers that appear in the grubby news media.

but in this episode, an impressive amount of brain scanning work has been spun into a clear, simple story with a singular, powerful result: the cerebellum - an important part of the brain involved in everything - is involved in viewing & memory of emotional pictures.

eleven scientists from Basel in Switzerland put one thousand four hundred & eighteen people aged 18 to 35 in a brain scanner & asked them to view, rate - & later to remember - a series of positive, neutral or negative images. this enormous pile of brain & behavioural data were analysed to answer two simple questions: do people remember emotional material better than neutral material? & is the cerebellum involved?

the answers were yes & yes. these 1418 brain scans showed that a part of the cerebellum which looks like a worm - the vermis - was involved in a network of brain areas that responded to the emotional stimuli.

does the brain's own little brain do emotion?


for years there have been arguments between those who think the cerebellum is only involved in controlling bodily movements & those who think it does more than that. the cerebellum definitely does do movement, but as it contains about two-thirds of all the brain cells in the human nervous system, we should really not be surprised to find out that the cerebellum does a lot more.

an old colleague of mine is obsessed with the cerebellum & with computational theories of how it works & what it does. one of my favourite ways that he explained it to me was that the rest of the brain's job is to filter-out & select the information that is relevant for whatever job you are doing now. it sends the filtered information to the cerebellum which gets the job done. then it sends feedback to the rest of the brain about how it went & what to do next.

to use a political analogy from the UK, the rest of the brain is the 650 elected members of the houses of parliament who have ideas, set policy & bear ultimate responsibility for the decisions & for the narrative. the cerebellum is the 512 thousand civil servants who implement the policy, monitor its effects on the world & tell the rest of the brain how well it went down.

& if you disabuse yourself of the dogma that the cerebellum is only for movement, you may see that anything that we are doing - thinking, feeling, remembering, emoting - can be understood in the same way.

& this latest paper hammers another cold, hard, statistically-unbendable nail into the coffin of the cerebellum-only-does-movement world view.


[ ...clapping... ]