from the world's big
The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.
- A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
- The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
- This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.
Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
A neural crêpe
A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.
So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.
The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."
Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum
Image source: Sereno, et al.
A complicated map
Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."
That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.
It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."
This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."
Bigger and bigger
The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.
"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."
As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."
Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."
What was so great about Einstein anyway? A group of experts weigh in.
- The word genius is often used to describe Albert Einstein, but what exactly earned the German-born theoretical physicist that descriptor? We have his ideas to thank for many facets of the modern world, but it turns out not everyone thought he was that brilliant.
- "Everybody knows who Einstein is and people understand that he was a very famous scientist," says NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller. "But I think that people often don't grasp the true depth and the profound nature of the things that Einstein introduced to us."
- In this video, Thaller, futurist and business advisor David Bodanis, fellow theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, and others explain why Einstein's best-known contributions (the special theory of relativity and E=mc2) are so important. They also discuss his academic journey, the resistance and criticism he faced from his peers and the public, and his lasting influence on science.
Join Maria Konnikova live at 11am EDT tomorrow on Big Think!
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In order to be successful, many people believe, one must be passionate. Passion makes challenges enjoyable.
Teaching your child metacognitive techniques can improve their learning and life skills.
- Metacognition is the idea of "thinking about how we think" - this can give us insight into our feelings, needs and behaviors that allow us to adapt and grow.
- Metacognition can (and should) be taught from an early age to allow for students to do their best in school and in life.
- Simple forms of metacognitive thinking techniques can be taught at home and in the classroom.
Why children should learn metacognition from an early age<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUwNjM2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzI4MzUwMX0.rUZDnHDz-ATJTVDu4-8U4nv84X5rnGzAWCSN9UlDYh0/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C351%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="28119" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4d8ec0d774cb198fcd2ae27aebcdaa6d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="children standing on bright yellow background holding books concept of school learning metacognition" />
Metacognitive thinking in children can allow them to adapt and overcome obstacles at school and in life.
Photo by Rawpixel.com on Shutterstock<p>In simple terms, metacognitive thinking teaches us about ourselves. According to Tamara Rosier, a learning coach who specializes in metacognitive techniques, thinking about our thinking creates a perspective that allows us to adapt and change to what the situation needs.</p><p>A simple example of metacognitive thinking (or reframing) is this: </p><p><em>"Math tests make me anxious."</em> This is a statement, a thought. Turning to metacognition, this train of thought evolves into<em> "What about math tests make me anxious...and what can do I to change that?"</em> </p><p>According to Rosier, children who are taught to think of themselves as being either "good" or "bad" at a particular task can end up with a fixed mindset that makes them passive in approaching a challenge relating to that task. However, teaching kids to become more metacognitive helps them develop a mindset that leaves more room for growth and adaptation, promoting self-awareness and resilience.</p><p>This isn't just a theory, there are many studies that prove the worth of teaching metacognition to children. <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810013000068" target="_blank">Research suggests</a> that as students' metacognitive abilities increase, they also achieve at higher levels. </p><p>Even beyond academic learning, metacognition can help young people gain awareness of their own mental states so they can begin to answer important questions like "how do I live a happy life?" and "how do I feel good about myself?"</p>
How can we teach our children metacognitive thinking?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUwNjM2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MjQ0MjMwN30.dZjm64puC1SltpbYsJzQEgYsyJvfBqTK-JV9Xfqy7a8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C87%2C0%2C87&height=700" id="9e72d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="80b44c15587c39705ddfc7488eaf365e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="" />
Teaching children metacognition can happen at school and at home with just a few simple tricks...
Photo by ImageFlow on Shutterstock<p><strong>Teach children how their brains are wired for growth and productivity.</strong></p><p>How your child thinks about learning will greatly impact their performance while learning. <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ryan_Korstange/publication/330563817_Developing_Growth_Mindset_Through_Reflective_Writing/links/5c4861b8299bf12be3ddba12/Developing-Growth-Mindset-Through-Reflective-Writing.pdf" target="_blank">Research shows</a> that when students are able to develop a growth mindset (compared to a fixed mindset), they are more likely to engage in reflective thinking about how they can learn and grow which serves as motivation to do so. </p><p><strong>Provide opportunities to reflect on what they've learned.</strong></p><p><a href="https://www.edutopia.org/blog/8-pathways-metacognition-in-classroom-marilyn-price-mitchell" target="_blank">According to Edutopia</a>, higher-order thinking skills are able to be fostered when students recognize their own cognitive growth. Simple questions like<em> "before this test, I thought earthquakes were caused by _____, but now, I understand them to be caused by ______."</em> </p><p>This kind of thinking promotes the idea that they have learned a new fact or acquired a new skill, which allows them to become more motivated to learn and grow. A very simple way of doing this could be having students keep an education journal where they track things like what tasks they found easy each week at school, what assignments they found most difficult, and what new things they learned as a result of their studies. </p><p><strong>Simple interactions in the classroom can promote metacognition.</strong></p><p>Even the way teachers interact with students can help improve metacognition. Before a class, a teacher could give a few tips on how to actively listen and learn. Following the class, the teacher could ask students to write down three key points from the class. After, the teacher should share what they believe to be three key points from the class and ask students to self-check how closely their answers matched the teacher's answers. </p><p>This activity is able to increase active listening and improve metacognitive monitoring skills at the same time. </p><p><strong>Making the most of "teachable moments" everywhere (at home, in the classroom, etc.) </strong></p><p>You can model metacognition by talking through problems. Children can learn a lot from listening to their parents or teachers use higher-order thinking strategies (or metacognitive thinking) out loud. </p><p>Taking advantage of "teachable moments" like this can allow children to see metacognitive thinking in action and promote the idea that everyone makes mistakes and the best way to correct those mistakes is to work them through and think about it as an opportunity to learn and improve. </p>