Social cognition and the cerebellum: a meta-analysis of over 350 fMRI studies

Neuroimage. 2014 Feb 1:86:554-72. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.09.033. Epub 2013 Sep 27.


This meta-analysis explores the role of the cerebellum in social cognition. Recent meta-analyses of neuroimaging studies since 2008 demonstrate that the cerebellum is only marginally involved in social cognition and emotionality, with a few meta-analyses pointing to an involvement of at most 54% of the individual studies. In this study, novel meta-analyses of over 350 fMRI studies, dividing up the domain of social cognition in homogeneous subdomains, confirmed this low involvement of the cerebellum in conditions that trigger the mirror network (e.g., when familiar movements of body parts are observed) and the mentalizing network (when no moving body parts or unfamiliar movements are present). There is, however, one set of mentalizing conditions that strongly involve the cerebellum in 50-100% of the individual studies. In particular, when the level of abstraction is high, such as when behaviors are described in terms of traits or permanent characteristics, in terms of groups rather than individuals, in terms of the past (episodic autobiographic memory) or the future rather than the present, or in terms of hypothetical events that may happen. An activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis conducted in this study reveals that the cerebellum is critically implicated in social cognition and that the areas of the cerebellum which are consistently involved in social cognitive processes show extensive overlap with the areas involved in sensorimotor (during mirror and self-judgments tasks) as well as in executive functioning (across all tasks). We discuss the role of the cerebellum in social cognition in general and in higher abstraction mentalizing in particular. We also point out a number of methodological limitations of some available studies on the social brain that hamper the detection of cerebellar activity.

Keywords: Cerebellum; Functional neuroimaging; Meta-analysis; Review; Social cognition.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Perception*