Social competence following mild head injury and moderate traumatic brain injury: Investigating the neuropsychological relationships between arousal, social decision-making and depression
Client-directed long-term rehabilitative goals and life satisfaction following head injury emphasize the importance of social inclusion, rather than cognitive or physical, outcomes. However, very little research has explored the socio-emotional factors that pose as barriers to social reintegration following injury. This study investigates social barriers following head injury (i.e., decision-making - Iowa Gambling Task [IGT] and mood – depression) and possible amelioration of those challenges (through treatment) in both highly functioning university students with and without mild head injury (MHI) and in individuals with moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI). An arousal manipulation using emotionally evocative stimuli was introduced to manipulate the subject’s physiological arousal state. Seventy-five university students (37.6% reporting a MHI) and 11 patients with documented moderate TBI were recruited to participate in this quasi-experimental study. Those with head injury were found to be physiologically underaroused (on measures of electrodermal activation [EDA] and pulse) and were less sensitive to the negative effects of punishment (i.e., losses) in the gambling task than those without head injury, with greater impairment being observed for the moderate TBI group. The arousal manipulation, while effective, was not able to maintain a higher state of arousal in the injury groups across trials (i.e., their arousal state returned to pre-manipulation levels more quickly than their non-injured cohort), and, subsequently, a performance improvement was not observed on the IGT. Lastly, head injury was found to contribute to the relationship between IGT performance and depressive symptom acknowledgment and mood status in persons with head injury. This study indicates the possible important role of physiological arousal on socio- emotional behaviours (decision-making, mood) in persons with even mild, non-complicated head injuries and across the injury severity continuum.