Research Reports - Emotion perception after traumatic brain injury

Neuropsychology. 2015 Feb 2

Rosenberg H, Dethier M, Kessels RP, Westbrook RF, McDonald S

Objective: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) impairs emotion perception. Perception of
negative emotions (sadness, disgust, fear, and anger) is reportedly affected more
than positive (happiness and surprise) ones. It has been argued that this
reflects a specialized neural network underpinning negative emotions that is
vulnerable to brain injury. However, studies typically do not equate for
differential difficulty between emotions. We aimed to examine whether emotion
recognition deficits in people with TBI were specific to negative emotions, while
equating task difficulty, and to determine whether perception deficits might be
accounted for by other cognitive processes. Method: Twenty-seven people with TBI
and 28 matched control participants identified 6 basic emotions at 2 levels of
intensity (a) the conventional 100% intensity and (b) "equated intensity"-that
is, an intensity that yielded comparable accuracy rates across emotions in
controls. Results: (a) At 100% intensity, the TBI group was impaired in
recognizing anger, fear, and disgust but not happiness, surprise, or sadness and
performed worse on negative than positive emotions. (b) At equated intensity, the
TBI group was poorer than controls overall but not differentially poorer in
recognizing negative emotions. Although processing speed and nonverbal reasoning
were associated with emotion accuracy, injury severity by itself was a unique
predictor. Conclusions: When task difficulty is taken into account, individuals
with TBI show impairment in recognizing all facial emotions. There was no
evidence for a specific impairment for negative emotions or any particular
emotion. Impairment was accounted for by injury severity rather than being a
secondary effect of reduced neuropsychological functioning.

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