Physiological reactivity and the perception of emotional stimuli as they relate to social adaptive functioning after traumatic brain injury / y Melonie Jane Hopkins.
Hopkins, Melonie Jane.
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Traumatic brain injury (TBI) often affects social adaptive functioning and these changes in social adaptability are usually associated with general damage to the frontal cortex. Recent evidence suggests that certain neurons within the orbitofrontal cortex appear to be specialized for the processing of faces and facial expressions. The orbitofrontal cortex also appears to be involved in self-initiated somatic activation to emotionally-charged stimuli. According to Somatic Marker Theory (Damasio, 1994), the reduced physiological activation fails to provide an individual with appropriate somatic cues to personally-relevant stimuli and this, in turn, may result in maladaptive behaviour. Given the susceptibility of the orbitofrontal cortex in TBI, it was hypothesized that impaired perception and reactivity to socially-relevant information might be responsible for some of the social difficulties encountered after TBL Fifteen persons who sustained a moderate to severe brain injury were compared to age and education matched Control participants. In the first study, both groups were presented with photographs of models displaying the major emotions and either asked to identify the emotions or simply view the faces passively. In a second study, participants were asked to select cards from decks that varied in terms of how much money could be won or lost. Those decks with higher losses were considered to be high-risk decks. Electrodermal activity was measured concurrently in both situations. Relative to Controls, TBI participants were found to have difficulty identifying expressions of surprise, sadness, anger, and fear. TBI persons were also found to be under-reactive, as measured by electrodermal activity, while passively viewing slides of negative expressions. No group difference,in reactivity to high-risk card decks was observed. The ability to identify emotions in the face and electrodermal reactivity to faces and to high-risk decks in the card game were examined in relationship to social monitoring and empathy as described by family members or friends on the Brock Adaptive Functioning Questionnaire (BAFQ). Difficulties identifying negative expressions (i.e., sadness, anger, fear, and disgust) predicted problems in monitoring social situations. As well, a modest relationship was observed between hypo-arousal to negative faces and problems with social monitoring. Finally, hypo-arousal in the anticipation of risk during the card game related to problems in empathy. In summary, these data are consistent with the view that alterations in the ability to perceive emotional expressions in the face and the disruption in arousal to personally-relevant information may be accounting for some of the difficulties in social adaptation often observed in persons who have sustained a TBI. Furthermore, these data provide modest support for Damasio's Somatic Marker Theory in that physiological reactivity to socially-relevant information has some value in predicting social function. Therefore, the assessment of TBI persons, particularly those with adaptive behavioural problems, should be expanded to determine whether alterations in perception and reactivity to socially-relevant stimuli have occurred. When this is the case, rehabilitative strategies aimed more specifically at these difficulties should be considered.