The role of the Cerebellum in reconstructing Social Action Sequences
Journal Contribution - Journal Article
Recent neuroimaging research has revealed that the cerebellum plays a critical role in social reasoning, and in particular in understanding false beliefs and making trait attributions. One hypothesis is that the cerebellum is responsible for the understanding of sequences of motions and actions, which may be a prerequisite for social understanding. To investigate the role of action sequencing in mentalizing, we tested patients with generalized cerebellar degenerative lesions on tests of social understanding, and compared their performance with matched healthy volunteers. The tests involved understanding violations of social norms (Dewey, 1991), making trait and causal attributions on the basis of short behavioral sentences (Kestemont et al., 2016), and generating the correct chronological order of social actions depicted in cartoons (picture sequencing task; Langdon & Coltheart, 1999). Cerebellar patients showed clear deficits only on the picture sequencing task when generating the correct order of cartoons depicting false belief stories, and showed at or close to normal performance for mechanical stories and overlearned social scripts. In addition, they performed marginally worse on trait attributions inferred from verbal behavioral descriptions. We conclude that inferring the mental state of others through understanding the correct sequences of their actions, requires the support of the cerebellum.