While the cerebellum is involved in fear conditioning, its role in the emotional enhancement of episodic memory is less clear. Researchers at the University of Basel have investigated the part of the cerebellum in storing emotional experiences.
In a new study, researchers discovered that the cerebellum also plays a vital role in remembering emotional experiences. Using a whole-brain functional MRI approach in 1,418 healthy participants, researchers identified clusters significantly activated during enhanced memory encoding of negative and positive emotional pictures.
Later, in a memory test, the participants remembered the positive and negative images far better than the neutral images. An increase in brain activity in the parts of the cerebrum that are already known to be important was associated with the enhanced storage of emotional imagery. The team did discover higher cerebellar activation, though.
The researchers also demonstrate that the cerebellum communicates with various cerebrum areas during the enhanced storage of emotional images. It gets data from the cingulate gyrus, a part of the brain involved in the perception and assessment of emotions. Additionally, the hippocampus and amygdala get signals from the cerebellum, among other brain areas. This last one is crucial for memory storage.
De Quervain said, “These results indicate that the cerebellum is an integral network component responsible for the improved storage of emotional information. Although an improved memory of emotional events is a crucial mechanism for survival, it does have its downsides. In the case of very negative experiences, it can lead to recurring anxiety. The findings, which have now been released, may also be relevant in understanding psychiatric conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.”
- Matthias Fastenrath, Klara Spalek, David Coynel, et al. Human cerebellum and corticocerebellar connections involved in emotional memory enhancement. PNAS. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2204900119