|What is the function of the cerebellum?
|Question Date: 2017-06-15|
Thanks for the great question!
The cerebellum (Latin for “little
brain”) is an evolutionarily ancient brain
area that exists in similar form in animals, fish,
reptiles, and birds. You can find the cerebellum
in the hindbrain, or towards the bottom of the
back of the brain, near the brainstem. I have
included an image of my own brain to this message,
with the cerebellum highlighted in yellow (the
picture is taken using a Magnetic Resonance Imager
or MRI). Click on the link below to see My
The structure of the cerebellum reflects its
function. In the picture, notice how the
cerebellum has very small, regularly spaced
grooves. This very complex organization
gives the cerebellum the ability to perform lots
of calculations that enable fine motor
control, or how we can precisely control our
muscles to achieve certain goals.
The cerebellum does not initiate movement, as
that is the job of the motor cortex, but
it does make motions precise, coordinated, and
correctly timed. It does this by processing
signals from other parts of the brain and signals
from all other parts of the body. By integrating
all these signals, the cerebellum is able to
produce the very controlled and careful muscle
movements that allow us to write, play a musical
instrument, or play a sport. Our sense of
balance and how effortless we find walking are
also functions of the cerebellum.
Damage to the cerebellum results in a loss
of fine motor control, and relearning
movements that were once effortless, like walking,
can become incredible challenges without this
specialized part of the brain.
The cerebellum is, among other things, the muscle
coordination center of the brain. If you decide to
do something with your muscles, the signal is
processed in your cerebellum. This excludes
involuntary muscle twitches like contact with
something hot, which will go to a ganglion in your
spinal column instead of ever reaching your brain,
and activity of smooth muscle like the muscle
lining your blood vessels and digestive tract.
The cerebellum is one of the oldest parts of
the brain, meaning that it is one of the first
sections to evolve. Because of this, it performs
some of the most basic actions that an animal
needs to survive. While we could live lives,
although they would be very boring, without
complex thought and logical reasoning, we could
not survive without fine control of our motor
functions. This is what the cerebellum does. It
controls basic voluntary movements (posture,
balance, and coordination) as well as speech.
Basically, any time you intentionally move
muscles the cerebellum is working to coordinate it
in a balanced manner. It is interesting to note
that patients with damaged cerebellums are not
paralyzed, rather they are slower to react, have
difficulty balancing, and often experience muscle
tremors. Any sort of complex movement becomes very
unsteady for these patients. Thank you for your
I love this question! Thanks for asking.
The cerebellum is one of the most
fascinating parts of the human brain.
Actually, all vertebrates (animals with a spinal
cord) have a cerebellum! That's because the
cerebellum is a crucial part of the "hindbrain",
one of the oldest parts of the brain. Today,
humans have a hindbrain, a midbrain, and a
forebrain. Scientists believe the hindbrain
may have first evolved between 570 and 555 million
Okay, so it's old, and all animals with a spinal
cord have it, but why do I think the cerebellum
is so cool? That's because the function of
the cerebellum is actually still being figured
out... we still don't fully understand it!
Luckily, we do know a few things about what the
so-called "little brain" does. Let's find out what
we do know.
The most well understood function of the
cerebellum is to "fine-tune" movement. That
means the cerebellum helps us move in a
coordinated and precise manner, in terms of space
and time. Imagine you wanted to reach for a
glass of water on the table in front of you... the
cerebellum would help you to move your hand
smoothly, rapidly, and directly toward that glass
of water. Helpful, huh? If you had
cerebellar damage, your hand might move in a slow
and erratic manner toward the glass, and you would
need to correct the trajectory of your hand again
It's important to remember that the cerebellum
isn't the brain structure that decides how we're
going to move, or to initiate movement, but it
does help us fine-tune our movement to be
coordinated and precise.
Over the last few decades, scientists are starting
to think that the cerebellum actually does more
than just fine-tune our movement. Now we don't
have any definitive proof, but lots of different
pieces of evidence from neuroscience research are
telling us that the cerebellum might have a
role in language, attention, emotion, affect, and
even mental imagery!
More on that to come... in the future!
Thanks again for your question. Keep 'em coming!
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