A study led by social neuroscience professors Frank van Overwalle and Peter Mariën throws new light on the functioning of the cerebellum, the part of the brain situated at the back of the skull. The cerebellum was already known to play a key role as a command centre for coordinating muscular activity, but now it also appears to have a more developed cognitive function than was previously thought. It is now clear that it also has a social function.
The research team studied 11 patients with degenerative illnesses of the cerebellum, submitting them to a long, detailed observation and comparing them with a control group of healthy persons. The study tested their social functions in particular.
“We can now say that the network of nerve connections between the brain and the cerebellum are more developed than was thought and that the cerebellum plays a hirtherto underestimated role in the way we form social images of others,” Pr. Van Overwalle said.
The cerebellum provides us with almost totally automatic strategies for reacting to the behaviour of others.
The new data could prove useful for research into the causes of autism.