Previous research on the cerebellum has predominantly emphasized its motoric aspects. However, more recent research elucidated its role in complex social behaviors such as mentalizing. Additionally, research has shown that core autistic features might emerge from cerebellar dysfunctions. The aim of my project is to build a bridge between these theoretical advancements and the clinical work. More specifically, I aim to develop a training program to increase the functioning of the cerebellum in both cerebellar patients and patients with ASD. The first step in this project is focused on developing a short narrative-based intervention to improve mentalizing and social functioning by increasing patients’ meta-cognitive abilities and providing repeated practice in ordering social action sequences. If the results are promising, and after verifying that such a training indeed recruits the cerebellum, the next step of the project will entail a detailed study on the combined effect of brain stimulation and behavioral training in order to explore whether and to what extent we can accelerate the learning curve of social tasks involving action sequences. This project is the first to build such a bridge and, given positive results, might prove an invaluable novel training method. This will enrich the field’s current insights and provide a starting point for treatments inspired by social cerebellum research.
Frank Van Overwalle