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What they’re not telling you about your brain

By on October 4, 2014
Picture courtesy of M-Pics and freedigitalphotos.net

We are always writing about the amazing advances neuroscientists are making in studying brain function. Thanks to the work of pioneering scientists we know what the neocortex is doing, what the amygdale is doing, what the hippocampus is doing, and so on.

Them there’s the cerebellum, a small self-contained brain toward the base of your skull, that makes up about 10% of your brain’s total volume. In fact ‘cerebellum’ means ‘little brain’. If you read about the cerebellum it will say things like, “The cerebellum is responsible for balance and fine motor control”. You might be pretty pleased you have one if you go ball room dancing, but other than that no big deal.

Except that the cerebellum contains 50% of the brain neurons. Think about that, this ‘little brain’ contains 50% of your raw mental processing power, just for ballroom dancing. What is going on here? And consider this, if the cerebellum is responsible for moving around gracefully then a gazelle should have a cerebellum at least as large as yours, yet the human cerebellum dwarfs the cerebellum of  other mammals (other than the great apes).

Recent research has shed some light on the matter, although the issue is still dimly lit. By comparing the size of the cerebellum in different species researchers from the University of Reading in England have shown that the size of the cerebellum increases disproportionately with increases in the overall size of the brain. Meaning when the brain gets 10% bigger for example, the cerebellum might get 15% bigger.  Clearly this is not a function of fine motor control, but something linked to overall intelligence.

Researchers speculate that the ‘fine motor control’ of the cerebellum is what allows us to use tools, and it is tool making that makes us particularly smart as a species.

When we search for the seat of humanity, are we looking at the wrong part of the brain? Most neuroscientists assume that the neocortex, the brain’s distinctive folded outer layer, is the thing that makes us uniquely human. During the evolution of monkeys, the neocortex and cerebellum grew in tandem, a change in one being swiftly followed by a change in the other. Cerebellum’s growth spurt turned monkeys into humans – life – 02 October 2014

Picture courtesy of M-Pics and freedigitalphotos.net

The CafeHypno Editorial Team Sarah Carson, Jess Marion and Shawn Carson

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