New evidence shows cerebellum plays key role in robotic grasping

The cerebellum could play a key role in how the brain controls robotic grasping tools, according to results of a study recently published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Participants in the University of Missouri study completed a series of ordinary reaching and grasping tasks involving colored wooden blocks. They were then introduced to a robotic arm that performed the same reaching and grasping tasks when they pressed specific buttons. Lastly, the participants controlled the robot remotely by video feed from within an MRI scanner.

Scott Frey

During each session, regions of the brain were monitored using functional MRI.

“We found that the brain didn’t necessarily evolve to control modern robotic arms, but rather the cerebellum, an ancient portion of our brain that has remained relatively unchanged, plays a vital role in helping us reach and grasp with these tools — often with only minimal training,” Scott Frey, PhD, professor of psychological sciences in the College of Arts and Science and director of the Brain Imaging Center at the University of Missouri stated in a press release. “This suggests that we might look to the cerebellum when seeking potential targets for brain-controlled interfaces.”

Researchers believe the cerebellum plays a more sophisticated role in cognitive functions than previously thought and these findings could lead to advancements in assistive technologies to benefit the disabled community.


Frey S. J Cogn Neurosci. 2014;doi:10.1162/jocn_a_00766.

Disclosure: Research was funded in part by the Army Research Laboratory’s Army Research Office and the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Neurological Disease. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of either funding agency.

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