Research Reports - Irony and empathy in children with traumatic brain injury

J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2013 Jan 21:1-11

Dennis M, Simic N, Agostino A, Taylor HG, Bigler ED, Rubin K, Vannatta K, Gerhardt CA, Stancin T, Yeates KO

Social communication involves influencing what other people think and feel about
themselves. We use the term conative theory of mind (ToM) to refer to
communicative interactions involving one person trying to influence the mental
and emotional state of another, paradigmatic examples of which are irony and
empathy. This study reports how children with traumatic brain injury (TBI)
understand ironic criticism and empathic praise, on a task requiring them to
identify speaker belief and intention for direct conative speech acts involving
literal truth, and indirect speech acts involving either ironic criticism or
empathic praise. Participants were 71 children in the chronic state of a single
TBI and 57 age- and gender-matched children with orthopedic injuries (OI). Group
differences emerged on indirect speech acts involving conation (i.e., irony and
empathy), but not on structurally and linguistically identical direct speech
acts, suggesting specific deficits in this aspect of social cognition in
school-age children with TBI. Deficits in children with mild-moderate TBI were
less widespread and more selective than those of children with more severe
injuries. Deficits in understanding the social, conative function of indirect
speech acts like irony and empathy have widespread and deep implications for
social function in children with TBI.

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