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Morality: incomplete without the cerebellum?

Asli Demirtas-Tatlidede, Jeremy D. Schmahmann
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awt070 e244 First published online: 3 May 2013


Fumagalli and Priori (2012) present an overview of the functional neuroanatomy of morality, in which they discuss cortical and subcortical structures involved in normal and aberrant moral behaviour. Recognizing the complexities of moral judgement and action, the authors invoke in their dissertation a consideration of cognitive processes critical to morality. These include theory of mind, social cognition, moral decision processing, conflict resolution and emotional regulation. The authors also analyse aggression, violence and psychopathy as specific indicators of subverted morality. These high level human attributes are embodied in distributed neural systems comprising association and paralimbic cortical areas and subcortical nuclei, all included in the review. Fumagalli and Priori (2012) do not, however, mention the cerebellum, which renders incomplete the full consideration of the neural basis of moral cognition.

Anatomical investigations in non-human primates show that the cerebellum is reciprocally interlinked with precisely those areas discussed in the review implicated in the neural basis of reason, emotion, moral behaviour and aggression. These include the dorsolateral prefrontal, medial prefrontal, anterior and posterior cingulate, superior and middle temporal, posterior parietal and posterior parahippocampal cortices and the hypothalamus (Schmahmann and Pandya, 1997; Strick et al., 2009; Schmahmann, 2010). Further, the basis pontis and thalamus are obligatory way stations in the feedforward and feedback limbs of the …