Indices and Implications of Emotional Underarousal for Persons with a History of Head Trauma
MetadataShow full item record
We examined the role of altered emotional functioning across the spectrum of injury severity (mild head injury [MHI], moderate/severe traumatic brain injury [TBI]), its implications for social behaviours, and the effect of modifying arousal and its relation to cognitive performance. In the first study (N = 230), students with self-reported MHI endorsed engaging in socially unacceptable and erratic behaviours significantly more often than did those with no MHI. We did not find significant differences between the groups in the measure of emotional intelligence (EI); however, for students who reported a MHI, scores on the EI measure significantly predicted reports of socially unacceptable behaviours such that lower scores predicted poorer social functioning, accounting for approximately 20% of the variance. Also, the experience of postconcussive symptoms was found to be significantly greater for students with MHI relative to their peers. In the second study (N = 85), we further examined emotional underarousal in terms of physiological (i.e., electrodermal activation [EDA]) and self-reported responsivity to emotionally-evocative picture stimuli. Although the valence ratings of the stimuli did not differ between students with and without MHI as we had expected, we found evidence of reduced and/or indiscriminate emotional responding to the stimuli for those with MHI which mimics that observed in other studies for persons with moderate/severe TBI. We also found that emotional underarousal followed a gradient of injury severity despite reporting a pattern of experiencing more life stressors. In the third study (N = 81), we replicated our findings of emotional underarousal for those with head trauma and also uniquely explored neuroendocrine aspects (salivary cortisol; cortisol awakening response [CAR]) and autonomic indices (EDA) of emotional dysregulation in terms of stress responsivity across the spectrum of injury severity (MHI [n = 32], moderate/severe TBI [n = 9], and age and education matched controls [n = 40]). Although the manipulation was effective in modifying arousal state in terms of autonomic and self-reported indices, we did not support our hypothesis that increased arousal would be related to improved performance on cognitive measures for those with prior injury. To our knowledge, this is the only study to examine the CAR with this population. Repeated measure analysis revealed that, upon awakening, students with no reported head trauma illustrated the typical CAR increase 45 minutes after waking, whereas, students who had a history of either mild head trauma or moderate/severe TBI demonstrated a blunted CAR. Thus, across the three studies we have provided evidence of emotional underarousal, its potential implications for social interactions, and also have identified potentially useful indices of dysregulated stress responsivity regardless of injury severity.