The Part of the Brain That Controls Movement Also Controls Your Emotions

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The original version about This article appeared inside Quanta Magazine.

In recent years, the science of the brain has seen remarkable progress, yet the fundamental part of the brain remains a mystery. I’m talking about the cerebellum, which is also called the “little brain,” which is called the cerebellum at the back of the brain. This observation is not trivial: The nucleus contains three-quarters of the brain’s neurons, which are arranged in a crystalline pattern, unlike the twisted neurons found elsewhere.

Encyclopedia articles and textbooks emphasize the fact that the function of the cerebellum is to control body movements. There is no doubt that the cerebellum has this function. But scientists are now questioning whether the long-held view is unfounded.

Or I studied in November in Washington, DC, and went to Annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, the world’s largest neuroscience conference. There, two neuroscientists developed a a discussion on newly discovered functions of the cerebellum unrelated to motor control. New experimental methods show that in addition to controlling movement, the cerebellum controls complex behaviors, social interactions, aggressiveness, working memory, learning, emotions, and more.

A Crack in the Great Wisdom

The connection between the cerebellum and movement has been known since the 19th century. Patients suffering from brain damage in the brain region had visual problems and movement, leaving no doubt that it was important in controlling movement. Over the years, neuroscientists have gained a detailed understanding of how the cerebellum’s unique neural circuitry controls motor functions. Explanations of how the cerebellum works seemed watered down.

Then, in 1998, in the magazine The brainneurologists explained more intellectual and cognitive disabilities in patients with cerebellar dysfunction. For example, in 1991, a 22-year-old college student fell while skiing; A CT scan revealed a tumor in his cerebellum. After surgery, he was a completely different person. The bright college student was unable to write fluently, perform mental arithmetic, name simple objects, or copy a simple diagram. His mind was shattered. He hid in the covers and behaved inappropriately, undressed in the corridors and talked about childish things. His social interactions, including recognizing familiar faces, were also impossible.

This and similar story surprised the authors. These higher mental and emotional functions were thought to reside in the cerebral cortex and limbic system. “The exact facts of what the cerebellar part is, and how the cerebellum works, need to be established,” they concluded.

Despite this from medical studies that conventional wisdom was on the wrong track, pioneers still insisted that the function of the cerebellum was to control movement and nothing else. “It’s sad, because it’s been 20 years” since the allegations were made, he said Diasynou Fioravanteneurophysiologist at UC Davis, who moderated the conference discussion.

Some neurologists have observed neuropsychiatric deficits in their patients throughout this period, said the psychiatrist Stephanie Rudolph of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who organized the symposium with Fioravante. However, there was no conclusive evidence of how the cerebellum can help control mental and emotional performance, so clinical reports were ignored.

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