What Is the Cerebellum?

Brain with cerebellum
BSIP/UIG / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

The cerebellum (which is Latin for “little brain”) is a major structure of the hindbrain that is located near the brainstem. This part of the brain is responsible for a number of functions including motor skills such as balance, coordination, and posture.

Where Is the Cerebellum Located?

The cerebellum is the largest structure of the hindbrain and can be found at the back portion of the skull below the temporal and occipital lobes and above the brainstem.

When looking at the brain, the cerebellum looks much like a smaller structure separate from the brain, found beneath the hemispheres of the cerebral cortex. The cerebellum consists of a cortex covering white matter, as well as a ventricle filled with fluid. It is also divided into two hemispheres like the cerebral cortex.

The cerebellum makes up just 10 percent of the total volume of the brain, yet it contains more than half of the brain's neurons.

What Does the Cerebellum Do?

The cerebellum plays an important role in motor control, the coordination of motor movements and balance, among other things.

Some of the key functions of the cerebellum include:

Coordinating the Body's Voluntary Movements

Movement is a complex process that requires a number of different muscles groups working together. Consider how many muscles groups are involved in the process of walking, running or throwing a ball. While the cerebellum is not thought to initiate movement, this part of the brain helps organize all of the actions of the muscle groups involved in a particular movement to ensure that the body is able to produce a fluid, coordinated movement.

Balance and Posture

In order to understand the important role that the cerebellum plays, it can be helpful to look at what happens when the function of this part of the brain is impaired. Drinking alcohol, for example, has an immediate effect on the cerebellum and leads to disruptions in the body's coordination and movements.

People who are severely intoxicated might find that they cannot even walk in a straight line or touch their own nose when asked. 

Motor Learning

When you learn to perform a new skill such as riding a bike or hitting a baseball, you often go through a trial-and-error process. As you fine-tune your motor movements, you eventually become better able to perform the skill and eventually you can perform the action seamlessly. The cerebellum plays a critical role in this motor learning process.

Learn more about some of the different structures of the brain in this quick look at the anatomy of the human brain.


Carey, D.P. (2001). Cerebellum. In P. Winn (Ed.)., Dictionary of Biological Psychology. London: Routledge.

Freberg, L. (2009). Discovering Biological Psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Kniermin, J. (n.d). Chapter 5: Cerebellum. Neuroscience Online: An Electronic Textbook for the Neurosciences. University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Retrieved from http://neuroscience.uth.tmc.edu/s3/chapter05.html.

Llinas, R.R., Walton, K.D., & Lang, E.J. (2004). Chapter 7: Cerebellum. In G.M. Shepherd, The Synaptic Organization of the Brain. New York: Oxford University Press.

Continue Reading