Deficits in facial emotion recognition indicate behavioral changes and impaired self-awareness after moderate to severe traumatic brain injury

Jacoba M Spikman, Maarten Milders, Annemarie C Visser-Keizer, Herma J Westerhof-Evers, Meike Herben-Dekker, Joukje van der Naalt

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    103 Citations (Scopus)


    Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of disability, specifically among younger adults. Behavioral changes are common after moderate to severe TBI and have adverse consequences for social and vocational functioning. It is hypothesized that deficits in social cognition, including facial affect recognition, might underlie these behavioral changes.Measurement of behavioral deficits is complicated, because the rating scales used rely on subjective judgement, often lack specificity and many patients provide unrealistically positive reports of their functioning due to impaired self-awareness. Accordingly, it is important to find performance based tests that allow objective and early identification of these problems. In the present study 51 moderate to severe TBI patients in the sub-acute and chronic stage were assessed with a test for emotion recognition (FEEST) and a questionnaire for behavioral problems (DEX) with a self and proxy rated version. Patients performed worse on the total score and on the negative emotion subscores of the FEEST than a matched group of 31 healthy controls. Patients also exhibited significantly more behavioral problems on both the DEX self and proxy rated version, but proxy ratings revealed more severe problems. No significant correlation was found between FEEST scores and DEX self ratings. However, impaired emotion recognition in the patients, and in particular of Sadness and Anger, was significantly correlated with behavioral problems as rated by proxies and with impaired self-awareness. This is the first study to find these associations, strengthening the proposed recognition of social signals as a condition for adequate social functioning. Hence, deficits in emotion recognition can be conceived as markers for behavioral problems and lack of insight in TBI patients. This finding is also of clinical importance since, unlike behavioral problems, emotion recognition can be objectively measured early after injury, allowing for early detection and treatment of these problems.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)e65581
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Issue number6
    Early online date12 Jun 2013
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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